There was plenty of excitement late last year when Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced a European testbed for its drone delivery subsidiary, Wing.
Wing’s delivery drone network is already being tested at scale in Australia and, last October, a small suburb of Dublin was selected for its first trials in the EU.
It signalled a vote of confidence from the Big Tech giant for the region’s drone ecosystem, with a spokesperson from Wing citing “the progress on drone regulations” in the EU as a reason for moving forward with tests there.
Ireland has already served as a successful launchpad for drone delivery startup Manna, which is now starting trials in the US, and there are many more drone startups taking off across Europe.
UK company Skyports plans to expand its drone delivery service across Europe and beyond, and recently opened offices in South Korea. Germany-based Wingcopter is currently looking into how hydrogen might power its fleet of delivery drones.
The drone industry isn’t just about delivery, either. Proveye, another Irish company, is advancing drone-based image processing for use in agriculture.
Swedish company Skyqraft uses a system of drones and AI to conduct power line inspections. Dutch startup Fusion Engineering develops flight controls for commercial drones. France-headquartered IVA Drones is spearheading the new business category of drones-as-a-service, offering businesses a way to book drones for any mission they might have for them.
Drones are in the entertainment business too, with companies such as Dronisos, also based in France, choreographing drone flights for dazzling light shows, and many more specialist operators working on film sets and photoshoots.
Putting drones to work
Also known as uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) or uncrewed aircraft systems (UASs), businesses are finding many uses for drones in their work.
While a prime opportunity has been identified in last-mile delivery services, this has proven a tough course to chart. Even a major player such as Amazon, which has spent many years trying to get its Prime Air project off the ground, has hit upon challenges that have set its plans back time and time again.
While this segment of the drone industry has experienced its rises and falls, there are other implementations of this technology making steady progress.
Drone photography and video capture is not only being used by creatives, but also in the industrial sector where the vantage point only drones can offer proves useful.
Drones give visibility to towering structures with minimal safety risk for the workers tasked with maintaining them. When combined with computer vision technology, they can be of further assistance in detection and monitoring.
Jobs in the drone industry
The industry rising up around drone technology means new jobs are being created in this sector.
First and foremost, companies who want to put drones to work need people who can fly them, such as drone operators and pilots.
Mechanical engineers are needed in the build and manufacturing stage, while drone technicians and mechanics are also required to ensure entire fleets are kept up to spec and flight-ready.
Photographers and videographers who have mastered the art of flying a drone while capturing stunning, steady visuals can find work in the creative sector or even provide a feed of stock footage and images for the industry.
Purpose-built drones also require purpose-built software, opening up a new category of software development. Autonomous drones in particular present a challenge for programmers, making use of AI for navigation and route-mapping.
And, as this is still an emerging tech space, companies going deep into the research and development of drones are hiring flight sciences teams to help understand, inspect, and improve aerodynamics, propulsion, performance, stability, and flight controls.
This is where specialists from the aviation industry can pivot to a career the drone sector, where their experience and skills come at a premium.
Getting on board
For those who have more than a fleeting interest in drones, a good place to start would be to invest in a craft and familiarise yourself with local regulations, such as height limits and geographic restrictions. If it’s a drone equipped with a camera or sensor, you’ll need to be extra careful in terms of data collection rules, and always be careful not to trespass on private property.
To fly it, you must register as a drone operator and pass a drone pilot exam. This can be completed following online training with your national aviation authority.