Against the backdrop of the German Federal Government’s funding programme for drones and air taxis, together with the unveiling of the CityAirbus in Ingolstadt in March, industry experts recently gathered in Berlin for a Round Table meeting.
At the invitation of Europe’s largest drones trade fair, INTERAERIAL SOLUTIONS part of INTERGEO (17–19 September 2019 in Stuttgart), they discussed whether drones are being deployed successfully and cost-effectively anywhere yet in Germany, or whether vision and reality are still miles apart?
Kay Wackwitz from DRONE INDUSTRY INSIGHTS provided the first input with a preview of the results of the UAV-Drones Barometer 2019, due for publication in June. He said there were signs “that the huge hype has since given way to consolidation and that drone technology has now become a standard tool in many fields.” Wackwitz is confident that “with their huge potential, drones and drone technology are now an unstoppable force.”
The scope of applications for drones is enormous. Nowadays, the focus is no longer solely on the technology itself. “The key question is how and where drone technology can be used,” according to Achim Friedl, Chairman of UAV DACH, the leading lobbying association for commercial unmanned aircraft in Germany.
Are air taxis and drones basically the same thing?
With regard to how homogeneous the sector can be considered, Marian Kortas, Head of Flight Operations, Technology and Safety at the German Aviation Association (Bundesverband der Deutschen Luftverkehrswirtschaft e.V. – BDL), said: “The applications for drones are very diverse, ranging from specialised drones for commercial uses to run-of-the-mill hobby drones. Nowadays, drones are part of air traffic – but it’s vital to integrate them safely into air space, also to make sure we harness the full potential of this technology.”
Drones as troubleshooters for industry
In industry, drones are viewed as providing solutions. Sascha Schmel, Managing Director of the VDMA Materials Handling and Intralogistics Sector Association, reported on the first positive test applications in B2B transportation of goods. Drones are already being used successfully for inspection and surveillance. Interfaces are a hot topic in the working group that the association founded in response to the keen interest shown by its members: “The key question is how we can supply the drones with goods. Among other things, people are working intensively on networking concepts and platforms solutions.”
Drones in cities
Juliane Jähnke from the DRONE THINK TANK, which was founded in 2017, called for efforts to generally raise the profile of drones’ capabilities: “Drones can do much more than simply logistics tasks and blood bank transportation.” She insisted that the technological expertise that undoubtedly exists in Germany needs injecting more pointedly into topics such as smart cities: “Right now, we are only as good as our limitations allow. This technology needs integrating more forcefully.”Lisa Kinne from Bitkom reported keen interest in drones in this digital association: “As an association with a wide spectrum of members, we’re not monitoring this technology in isolated cases, but mainly from a cross-sectoral perspective, e.g. in agriculture or in relation to smart cities.”
Sense and regulations
Sascha Schmel also said it was important to focus on useful and cost-effective applications. “A fifth or even sixth delivery after the delivery truck calls makes no sense to me. It’s a question of the right dose, and technological efficiency must always be the key issue.”
Kevin Behnisch, a member of the management board of the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies of DIN and VDE, called for a better and more open regulatory framework: “We are usually the first to pioneer innovative technologies, in Germany, but then we get tied up in administrative red tape and are too cumbersome to get them up and running. We can only claim technology leadership in the field of drones if we keep on developing the topic in the form of practical applications. Norms and standards can help map the current state of the art in this technology and ensure the safety society requires.”
Kortas from the BDL points out that further progress depends on many linchpins: “People must get to work in different areas. We need companies that are brave enough to use drones and drone technology, and we need long-sighted policies to establish the framework for the safe use of drones. We need more far-reaching safety regulations, such as mandatory registration for drones and their users, while also streamlining authorisation procedures.”
Achim Friedl from UAV DACH called for more substantial support in terms of economic policies and cited the desperate need for a central body to issue operating licences. “Security policy makers need to realise that drones are not a bad thing.” He believes the wide range of applications directly presents a major challenge: “We can only support individual market segments if all parties sit down at one table. We need to thrash out the specifics for each individual sphere – be that the police, forestry or agriculture.”
Besides regulations, the participants still consider the biggest challenge to lie in gaining social acceptance of this technology. Issues such as safety, the risk of state surveillance, spying on people’s private lives, conflicting interests (with recreational aviation, for example), the sometimes misleading communications, and cases of abusing this innovative technology for PR and marketing measures provoke strong resentment in broad sections of society.
Wackwitz says they “need continuous and better counter arguments based on systematic education, responsible communications and numerous success stories.” He continues, “It is right and important to address the risks and challenges in a responsible manner. We must not allow the bad-mouthing of a technology that performs so many good and useful functions.”
About INTERAERIAL SOLUTIONS
Some 300 exhibitors and more than 10,000 visitors from Europe, North America and Asia are expected to attend IAS as part of INTERGEO (17–19 September at Stuttgart Exhibition Centre). Leading suppliers will be offering live demonstrations on all three days in the Flight Zone.
The EUROPEAN DRONE SUMMIT (EDS), Europe’s most important drone conference, is taking place simultaneously on 18/19 September 2019.