By Matt Nicholls
By Matt Nicholls
Area 51. Dreamland. Paradise Ranch. Groom Lake.
The mere mention of the U.S. Air Force’s mysterious facility tucked away in the vast Nevada desert piques the interests of aviation and aerospace enthusiasts the world over – and for good reason. The secretive spot has long-been rumoured to house a bevy of experimental aircraft – it serves as the epitome of “what if.”
It’s also the “cool” factor personified, offering a glimpse of what’s possible in the military and commercial skies. It ignites the imaginations of those that dream big – the innovators, achievers, those ready to boldly strive forward to capitalize on exciting and potentially lucrative, advancements.
The folks at Aeryon Labs in Waterloo, Ont. know all about the “what if.” Since 2007, Aeryon has been a Canadian pioneer in the development of unmanned aerial systems – a new frontier that’s on the cusp of exploding, forever altering the aviation landscape. So, what better time to introduce its own Canadian version of Area 51 – an experimental developmental playground at its Waterloo facility, where Aeryon engineers will create the next great UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), UAS (unmanned aerial system) and remote piloted aerial systems (RPAS).
“It’s the perfect name for our new lab,” Aeryon’s digital media marketing specialist Adam Stephens told UAV Canada. “It’s got a cool factor for sure, appropriate for what we do. We’re just in a really cool business.”
Welcome to a Brave New World; the age of the machines. It’s a “really cool” world where companies like Aeryon are redefining processes. The UAV space is on the verge of exploding and it will turn traditional aviation and aerospace worlds upside down, altering the way companies do business, execute operations, process data and more.
UAVs, UASs and RPASs have been around for years in military and reconnaissance applications, but these advanced systems are now all the buzz on the commercial side, enabling visionaries new opportunities to apply transformative aerial processes to their worlds.
The numbers are staggering. A recent study by Boulder, Colo. marketing firm Tractica, for example, suggests revenue from the drone enabled-services market is expected to hit $8.7 billion by 2025. Countless other studies illustrate that the commercial airspace will soon be joined by thousands of aerial systems buzzing on by, creating significant challenges for airspace access, safety, operational logistics, privacy, liability and more.
UAVs are gaining traction in a wide range of market segments, including film and media, oil and gas, aerial firefighting, search and rescue (SAR), security, law enforcement, real estate, heavy construction, building and pipeline inspection and more – the applications limited only by creative walls.
Global regulatory environments worldwide are responding to rapid technological change with regulations that ensure safety while not inhibiting progress. In North America, both the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transport Canada (TC), have been proactive in the process, ensuring safety remains at the forefront.
It’s a delicate balance, as Aeryon president/CEO David Kroetsch notes in “A View From Above,” pg. 24. “The challenge is to ensure technology does not create a backlash in the regulatory process,” Kroetsch explains. “Creating a legalized avenue for people to do drone operations is critical – you need to give them a process to follow.”
The good news is, as Kroetsch ensures, the UAV space is not at its infancy – this isn’t like the Wright Brothers at the turn of the century. We’ve moved past the early adopter stage and educational opportunities in Canada and abroad are growing, with more colleges, universities and independent educators educating “Next Gen” aviators on how to adapt and thrive in the space.
Canada has been aggressive in some ways, offering UAV access to airspace with its Special Flight Operating Certificates (SFOC). “So, we have commercial customers that have been flying for almost a decade in Canada,” Kroetsch says. “In the U.S., they are just starting to cross that boundary. That being said, they move very quickly. So, there is a pent up demand there.”
The next step for UAV operators will be scaling and implementing data management processes to make sense of the vast amounts of information and applications these new “machines” can process and achieve. And while it may not be experimenting on out-of-this-world aircraft like at the real Area 51, it’s certainly a game changer.
“There are so many ways we can use drones,” Kroetsch says. “If I am watching a movie, I always say, it would be so much better if they just used a drone. It will change how people work . . . I think sometimes people are threatened by it, but we need to change that perception.”
The rise of the machines is ensuring, that a change in perception is certainly merited.