Drones are being used above our heads for all kinds of reasons, from photography and surveying to mountain rescue and disaster relief.
Drones were the 2015 Christmas present equivalent of the Optimus Prime figurines in 1985, the GameBoy in 1991, Nintendo’s Wii in 2006 or pretty much any major Apple product release since 2007. Everyone wanted one, but nobody really had much of a clue what to do with them, and then the law started getting involved.
National authorities around the world panicked as 2015 came to a close, realising immediate legislation was probably needed for drones (or Uncrewed Autonomous Vehicles: UAVs) to help police a soon-to-be overpopulated skyline.
This happened here in Ireland where, just before Christmas last year, the Irish Aviation Authority ruled that any drone over 1kg must be registered with them. This means a lot of paperwork to fly pretty much all of the most common and best-known UAVs on the market, such as the DJI Phantom 3, which comes in at around 1.3kg in weight.
There are several consumer drones which you can snap up, of course, with this list of five currently not affected by any of the stringent rules.
However, there are commercial interests too, with many established businesses, start-ups and even simple ideas currently putting drones to use around the country. Here are 14 examples, with a couple of surprising, abstract inclusions.
Aerial Photography Ireland
A fairly self-explanatory business, Aerial Photography Ireland produces high-resolution aerial content for clients – both photography and video.
Operating a DJI S900, the company’s Panasonic GH4 allows it to make videos up to 60fps, with resolution up to 4096×2160 if that’s your thing. Some of its projects include a wonderful video of Blarney Castle and the wooden roller coaster at Tayto Park.
This rather dramatic showreel should explain more:
While Google Maps might be the dominant public mapping tool out there, companies like Kerry-based ASM Ireland are turning to drones to help us map our environment in considerably more detail than would be available with just satellites.
Using a series of drones – called eBees – which contain imagery technology, ASM Ireland makes itself available for projects such as land surveys using 3D modelling and planning, mapping of environmental factors and also offering golf course owners a chance to map out their courses.
Using the eBee drones, ASM Ireland says that it is able to survey large areas of land at a resolution of up to 2cm per pixel.
Donegal Mountain Rescue Team
If you listen carefully, you might just be able to hear the familiar buzz of drones in the Donegal mountains piloted by members of the Donegal Mountain Rescue Team. The organisation recently announced it had teamed up with the drone manufacturing giant, DJI, to test its latest series of mountain rescue drones.
With help from the European Emergency Number Association, the Donegal Mountain Rescue Team is testing the latest developments in drone technology in some rather difficult of terrain.
Established in 2007, originally to provide pilots to the airline industry, Green Aviation, headed by Oisin Green, pivoted to focus on opportunities in the commercial UAV space. It operates a selection of drones ranging from 11-150kg equipped with cameras that weigh between 3-35kg.
Operating from Dublin with its R-350, Green Aviation hopes to scale back the data collection and monitoring currently done by piloted helicopters. The bonus is that instead of noisy flying helicopters over agricultural or industrial land, the drones can be used to monitor infrastructure discreetly.
One of the few UAV flight schools in Ireland, iFly Technology relies on military flying instructors to show you the ropes. Of course, as with anything that looks a bit cool, this isn’t cheap, however, if you want to operate a drone in Irish airspace you’ll need certification.
Teaching about Irish law, airspace awareness and ‘operational procedures’, the company appears quite business-focused, working out ways for you to profit from using a drone.
Lensmen is one of the better-known photography and video businesses in Ireland, so, naturally, it’s armed with drones now. PR focused, the company’s clients are largely corporate bodies and it was set up as far back as 1952. Headed by Susan Kennedy for over two decades now, it added timelapse to its portfolio recently as it’s “in constant demand”.
This one is a bit off topic, but worthy of a mention. The winner of the top prize at the Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Awards in 2014, the Medi-Pod – or Lightweight Durable Drone Compatible Medical Transportation Device – was developed by James King while he was studying mechanical engineering at Cork Institute of Technology.
Showing drones can be used for more than photography, the unique self-cooling pod was designed to deliver critical medical supplies such as blood and organs between medical facilities, over large distances and to remote, inaccessible, natural disaster or war-torn areas via aerial drone.
SkyTango aims to re-invent how drones are flown, hired, sold and delivered worldwide. It was considered the most impressive company by judges in last year’s NDRC LaunchPad. For its success in the final pitch, SkyTango received €30,000 in funding to develop its service.
The objective is to create a marketplace of aerial material that will help licensed operators generate revenue from their material and IP. The company’s technology is built on a software-as-a-service platform to help take the risk out of purchasing aerial content by buying from licensed drone operators.
The Cork-based SkyTec Ireland uses its drones for industrial applications – carrying out a range of industrial inspections and aerial surveys – and aerial photography/videography.
Shooting in 4K from a range of drones, SkyTec has worked on everything from inspections of industrial sites and historical buildings to photo and video work for clients running outdoor events. A specialty is the production of 360-degree interactive panoramas.
The company also provides a training programme for those interested in operating UAVs – in the past it was commissioned to shoot video for The Irish Times at Electric Picnic and gather the below aerial footage of the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.
SkyVidPro is a drone-filming company with bases in Dublin and Cork. It produces video footage that can be used by the film and TV industry, for sporting events and weddings, or for promotional purposes for hotels or property developers.
SkyVidPro builds a lot of its own equipment and provides drones to buy for film or photography professionals – its showreel is fairly impressive, too.
Skywest UAV provides drones that can be used for photography, video and surveillance purposes. An offshoot of Kildare-based helicopter flight training school Skywest Aviation, Skywest UAV’s drones can operate cameras ranging from a Go Pro Hero 3 all the way up to a full-size DSLR.
The services it offers include topographic, construction and land surveys, while it can also provide drones for special events. Two people operate the drone when it is working – one as pilot and one controlling the camera to ensure high-quality results.
The brainchild of Hailo founder Jay Bregman, Verifly is a start-up based in Dublin and New York that aims to make it safer for drones to be flown without fear of them colliding or crashing into buildings, infrastructure or other vehicles. Bregman’s co-founder at Verifly is Eugene Herz, an e-commerce supremo who sold Diapers.com to Amazon for $540m.
Established last year, the company has been hiring engineers to build the drone aviation technology. The venture’s lead in Ireland is Colm O’Cuilleanain. The company has plans to create infrastructure to support Verifly’s back-end infrastructure and support.
Founded in Skibbereen by Tomasz Firek in 2011, Versadrones has grown to include partners in the UK, Nigeria and South Africa, creating UAV systems capable of harvesting visual data and survey information from a drone in the face of any atmospheric conditions.
As one of the four flight schools in Ireland available for UAV pilots, Versadrones also provides training services and flight certification to operators, as well as data acquisition services to its users.
Versadrones has three drone designs in its fleet, including a heavy-duty lift HLO (heavy-lift octocopter), the Versa X6 drone and a lightweight, portable drone called the Patrol.
WIT’s Department of Architecture
The Building Information Modelling Collective (BIMC), a research group within Waterford IT’s Department of Architecture, has partnered with Bausch + Lomb to produce 3D models of ongoing construction works at the US medtech firm’s Waterford facility. BIMC is using UAVs to conduct aerial surveys of the work on the facility’s €115m expansion as it progresses.
By the project’s completion, the group will have undertaken more than 100 flights and taken 9.36m HD images for processing. Those images are even now being utilised by the Bausch + Lomb facilities management team to monitor progress on the expansion, and to keep senior management and external stakeholders informed.
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Main image of drone flying, via Shutterstock