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Drones swarming our cities will become as accepted as smartphones - expert

Tuesday, December 9th 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Questions over the safety of drone technology are the same as those raised by smartphones a few years ago, according to a drone expert.

Bart Remes, a researcher at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, admitted not everyone was comfortable with the thought of drones flying around their city.

“You saw the same thing with smartphones – in the beginning everybody was really afraid of smartphones and how big companies could invade your privacy,” Mr Remes told Cable.co.uk.

“You see the same thing with drones; in the beginning the question is about technology or ‘is it safe enough?’.

“What you see in countries where it is used a lot, first the technology question, then the price question and when those questions are completed people no longer see the issues. They see there are a lot of benefits from this system.”

Mr Remes said a lot of work is being done to make drones safe in urban areas.

“The research we are doing at the university is focussed on this kind of question: ‘how can you let drones fly safely in the city where you’ve got problems like when you're driving in your car and sometimes GPS is not working perfectly?’.

“You also have a lot of problems with drones around big buildings with a lot of wind, where you get a lot of turbulence.”

He said the university was working on agile controllers, allowing them to navigate drones without hitting obstacles.

“We are researching systems which can be carried by these very small drones so you can see obstacles ahead of them, even when the data link is lost,” he said.

“The drones are completely autonomous and can still navigate within this urban canyon.

See the wheat growing

Mr Remes and his team at the university’s micro aerial vehicle lab created the world’s smallest drone autopilot system – the Lisa/S.

“You can use this for pretty interesting stuff, like in cities you have big companies like Amazon and Google investing in drones to do things like deliver packages,” he said.

“In the city itself, where you’ve got two hospitals and in one hospital you need a fresh heart. In the other hospital you’ve got someone who’s just died and has the right heart, but now you’ve got to get through the traffic of the city and you get jammed.

“Sometimes they use helicopters to transfer from one hospital to the other one but in the future you can imagine that you can use drones for this kind of urgent delivery, so transportation in the city will be transformed.”

While Mr Remes envisions drones revolutionising the urban environment, he said the majority of drones are currently being used outside the city.

“Farmers are tracking over their land and seeing the wheat is growing as well as it should and ‘where do I need to spray pesticides and where do I need to add a little bit more water?’.

“That’s where they’re used now, most of them, but we are slowly coming closer towards the city and sooner or later they will come inside the city.

“It is happening already a little bit – real estate agents are using drones to film the houses that they want to sell and the surroundings of the house so you can get an idea of where you want to live.

“Slowly they are getting into the city and are becoming more adapted to city life.”

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