by ir. Damien Richardson,
Drones are becoming an inescapable reality in the Caribbean. They have already taken the world by storm and are now infiltrating every area of business and of our collective social experience causing the Caribbean to ask some essential questions going into the future. What role will Drones play in bringing true economic and social diversity to the region? What kind of opportunities do incorporating Drones in our training institutions create for the employment future of the citizens of the islands? What level of innovation, licensing, and regulations is the Caribbean prepared to provide and confront?
Change is not coming; it is already upon us. One of the things that the Caribbean should consider short-term, is to develop a regional collaborative team to manage the strategic network of drone movements within each island and between islands, develop policies, regulations and licensing types. A research and development institute could be established and be tasked with the role of innovating new regional and international venture opportunities for businesses, government agencies and private individuals.
It is vital for the Caribbean to understand Drone technology and to understand the crucial role Drones will and can play in the region is from various perspectives. Unmanned Aeronautical Vehicles (UAV’s) as they are often called, are flying objects that have become modern-day key players to facilitate reconnaissance, imagery, and be delivery logistics. They are used to make ground breaking research advancements, and are also becoming a key tool to assist with medical care and business activities.
“The invention which I have described will prove useful in many ways,” wrote the inventor of the drone technology, Nikola Tesla, way back in 1898 in his patent ‘Method of and Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vessels or Vehicles’. He described, in a seemingly prophetic tone, the wide range of possibilities for his new radio-control technology: “Vessels or vehicles of any suitable kind may be used, as life, dispatch, or pilot boats or the like, or for carrying letters packages, provisions, instruments, objects… but the greatest value of my invention will result from its effect upon warfare and armaments, for by reason of its certain and unlimited destructiveness it will tend to bring about and maintain permanent peace among nations.”
Today, the Drone civil industries market impact is seen to be $10 billion with an influence on the following areas private security, law enforcement, real estate, media, film, construction, mining, agriculture, and utilities. The impact of commercial drones is estimated to be US$82 billion and a 100,000-job boost to the U.S. economy by 2025. Looking at these forecasts and the areas being impacted by Drone technology, one is hard pressed to know why the Caribbean is not yet more involved in a greater measure.
One opportunity for the tourism industry in the region is hinted by ‘Dronelife.com’, and suggests to its readers that “travelling with a drone has become an ‘epic way to catalogue… summer exploits’, was now much cooler than taking selfies, and was the best way of capturing a visit to the beaches of the Caribbean”.
The Caribbean island authorities don’t seem ready for the Drone technology. There are little to no regulations or licensing governing their recreational use, business opportunities, import, safety, or privacy of others. There are some sporadic undefined regulations throughout the Caribbean, even to the level of having a complete ban on the use of UAV within the country (Nicaragua).
Only Barbados, has instituted fly zones to help regulate the recreational use of the UAV’s. It recently announced that it is reviewing all rules and processes governing the import and use of drone technology, even though it already restricts recreational flying of UAVs to four designated areas in the country and requires an operating license.
On St. Maarten, the Department of Civil Aviation, Shipping and Maritime Affairs is evaluating a number of requests surrounding UAV’s, giving persons or potential companies the opportunity to acquire a business license to operate a Drone business. One such business intends to provide virtual reality residential and commercial listing opportunities, special events and weddings. In addition, it can inspect flare stacks and power lines, mapping and surveying services, SAR -search and rescue assistance, and to facilitate agricultural assessment.
UAV’s are being used for scientific research in various ways. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is using Drones to collect breath samples from humpback whales in a Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts. It was the first time the difficult task of collecting whale breath samples was executed along with capturing aerial photos of their bodies. In the Antarctic, scientists are now able to check the health of Antarctic mosses, revealing clues on the pace of climate change. Mosses are sensitive to even minor changes in their living conditions. Traditionally, the researchers had to tramp through difficult terrain to collect data on them. Using the specially-designed drones is faster, kinder to the environment, and deliver detailed images that satellite imagery cannot match.
Drones are becoming of increasing importance in the medical field. Not only can they be used to deliver medical supplies to remote location, “Medevac Drones” are developed to move medically critical persons.
In the commercial world, UAV’s are being used to solve and facilitate essential beneficial adjustments to our daily experience. Among the companies that are employing Drones as an increasingly essential part of their business dynamics are: UPS, DHL, Royal Mail, Amazon Prime Air, British Telecom, AT&T, BBC, Microsoft, Shell, etc. Drones are used by law enforcement agencies, National Park Rangers in Africa use them, the Dubai’s Roads and Transportation Agency has drones. To round off the examples of the use of UAV’s, the military uses them as spy vehicles and militarized combat drones to carry payloads to locations more than fourteen hours away and hit the target with a 100% accuracy.
Drones provide opportunities for the Caribbean. It is a new area of business activities that should seriously be explored and considered for development in the region.