Drones: The Future is Airborne
THE FUTURE IS AIRBORNE
More than two decades since the release of Luc Besson’s dystopian blockbuster The Fifth Element, the 23rd-century flying taxi driver played by Bruce Willis might very well be out of a job in 2018. Because unlike Besson’s futuristic vision, the first airborne taxi designed for commercial use will fly without a human pilot. And you won’t have to wait hundreds of years for a ride, because the first unmanned flying taxicabs are slated to go into service this July in Dubai.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVS) – also known as drones, Miniature Pilotless Aircraft, or Flying Mini Robots – are growing massively in popularity. While still in their infancy in terms of mass adoption and usage, they have already disrupted many of the traditional industries that have been impenetrable for similar technological innovations.
In recent years, drones have become integral to the functioning of corporations and government organizations alike. From fast rush-hour deliveries to monitoring remote military bases, UAVS are proving to be indispensable in situations where time and accessibility are of the essence. For this reason, the technology has gone from a mere fad to a major trend extremely quickly. Organisations are recognising the drone’s potential to increase work efficiency and productivity, decrease workload and production costs, improve accuracy, and solve security issues on a massive scale.
On the consumer side, US$17 billion will be spent on personal drones over the next few years, for film-making, recording, still photography, and gaming. They come in all shapes and sizes, from small and affordable single-rotor models to huge, US$1,000+ quadcopters with GPS, multiple camera arrays, and first-person control.
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
Drones as we know them have been around for more than twenty years. However, their origins can be found in World War I, when both France and the USA worked on developing unmanned automatic airplanes. It has only been in the past few years that there has been major progress in adoption, global awareness, and usage across industries.
Part of drones’ popularity is their multiplicity of use. They can be employed for a vast array of purposes, including manning sensitive military areas and gathering information for disaster management, as well as creative endeavours such as aerial photography for journalism and film. They are also integral to military operations worldwide, being used as target decoys, for combat missions, research and development, and supervision. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are particularly suitable in combat situations due to their capacity to reduce losses and enable the execution of high-profile and time-sensitive missions.
Drones are also growing in popularity for commercial use, with many industries now employing them in their daily operations. According to statistics from Business Insider, the market for commercial and civilian drones is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19% between 2015 and 2020, compared with 5% growth in the military sector. As for the cargo side of the aircraft industry, Amazon announced plans in 2016 to partner with the British government to test the viability of delivering small parcels by drone in the
今天，距离吕克·贝松（ Luc Besson）的反乌托邦大片《第五元素》上映已二十多年，而扮演23世纪飞行出租车司机的布鲁斯·威利斯（ Bruce Willis）在2018年很可能就会失业。与贝松的未来设想不同，第一个商业空中出租车无需人类驾驶。而且，人类不用再等上几百年，因为第一架无人驾驶出租车将于今年7月在迪拜投入使用。
无人飞行器（ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles）也称为无人机，微型无人驾驶飞机（ Miniature Pilotless Aircraft）或飞行迷你机器人（ Flying Mini Robots）正在大规模普及。虽然尚处于萌芽阶段，但它们已打破类似技术创新难以逾越的许多传统产业。
无人机的商业用途越来越受欢迎，许多行业已将其用于日常运营。根据知名博客媒体Business Insider的统计，预计2015– 2020年商用和民用无人机市场将以19%的复合年增长率（ CAGR）强劲发展，而军事行业的增长率为5%。对于飞机货运领域， 2016年，亚马逊宣布计划与英国政府合作，在英国测试无人机投递2.3千克（ 5磅）以下货物的可行性。这类订单占亚马逊销售额的90%。该公司也正在美国测试类似的技术，但美国联邦航空管理局（ FAA）对此的限制十分严格。
直至最近，无人驾驶车辆依然遥不可及。然而，一系列技术突破为最近在迪拜推出的自动驾驶出租车服务铺平了道路。2016年3月出现了重大里程碑事件，德国无人驾驶飞机制造商e-volo试飞了第一架有人驾驶的认证多旋翼飞行器Volocopter VC200。不久之后，民用交通规则就快速地做出相应调整，电池技术不断完善，物联网逐渐兴起，优步打车（ Uber）等按需移动性也迅速发展。
迪拜即将成为全球第一个部署飞行出租车的城市，此前于2017年2月，迪拜道路与交通管理局（ Dubai Roads and Transport Authority）已发出了相
UK. Amazon was granted permission to test operations beyond the line of sight, along with obstacle avoidance, for drones carrying deliveries weighing 2.3kg (5lb) or less. This type of order makes up 90% of Amazon’s sales. The company is also testing similar technology in the US, but faces severe restrictions from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
While the commercial drone industry is still immature, there has already been some consolidation, along with significant investments from industrial conglomerates, IT consulting firms, chip companies, and major defence contractors. Currently, industry leaders are mainly early-stage manufacturers in Europe, Asia, and North America.
HITCHING A RIDE
Until recently, unmanned passenger vehicles were the stuff of sci-fi dreams. However, a series of breakthroughs have paved the way for the autonomous taxi service that has recently launched in Dubai. A major milestone was reached in March 2016, when German drone manufacturer e-volo flew the first manned certified multicopter – the Volocopter VC200. In quick succession came a shift in civil air traffic rules, improvements in battery technology, and the rise of the ‘internet of things’ and on-demand mobility with the likes of Uber.
Dubai looks set to be the first city in the world to deploy flying taxis, following an announcement by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in February 2017. Flights of the Chinese-built Ehang 184 at the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority’s test site are part of Dubai’s self-driving transport strategy, which aims to transform 25% of individual journeys in Dubai into selfdriving trips using various modes of transport by 2030.
The Ehang 184 – which can lift a combined passenger and luggage payload of 100 kilograms, and fly for 25 minutes at a cruising speed of 60kph (37mph) – could also be a contender for flying taxi services in Singapore, alongside the Volocopter VC200 and the Scorpian-3 from the Russian start-up Hoversurf. All three were presented at The Business Times Leaders’ Forum in Singapore in March 2017, and the island state’s Transport Ministry’s 2030 strategy for urban mobility includes passengercarrying drones.
Drone technology is in a state of constant evolution, with breakthroughs happening all the time. According to Airdronecraze.com, the original static models have given way already to transformative designs, with three-axis gimbals and autopilot modes. In future, improvements in commercial suitability, safety, and regulatory standards will allow for intelligent piloting models and full autonomy. This new generation of drones, dubbed ‘Generation 7’, is already underway, with 3Drobotics announcing the world’s first all-in-one Smart Drone, known as Solo. The next major revolution in UAV technology will be smart drones with built-in safeguards and compliance tech, smart accurate sensors, and self-monitoring. They will provide new opportunities in the transport, logistics, military, and commercial sectors.
With such brisk development, it’s surely only a matter of time before the sky above our cities is buzzing with UAVS sending parcels – and even passengers – from A to B and all the way to Z. It seems Luc Besson’s futuristic vision isn’t just a fantasy after all.
Ehang 184可以携带共100公斤乘客及行李的有效载荷，以60公里/小时的巡航速度（ 37英里/小时）飞行25分钟。它也可能与Volocopter VC200和俄罗斯初创企业Hoversurf的Scorpian- 3一道竞争新加坡飞行出租车服务。这三款飞行器都参加了2017年3月在新加坡举行的“商业时报领袖论坛”（ The Business Times Leaders’ Forum）。新加坡运输部2030年的城市交通战略将载客无人机纳入其中。
IN FUTURE, IMPROVEMENTS IN COMMERCIAL SUITABILITY, SAFETY, AND REGULATORY STANDARDS WILL ALLOW FOR INTELLIGENT PILOTING MODELS AND FULL AUTONOMY.未来，商业适用性、安全性和监管标准完善将使智能驾驶模型和完全自主性成为可能。