Drones raise hopes for aerial industrial revolution


Drones are attracting widespread attention for their potential use in a broad range of tasks, including aerial photography and goods delivery.

“Aerial space that is almost unused can be put to effective use (with drones), so an industrial revolution can take place in the sky,” said one industry official who was hopeful about the new opportunities in Japan being created by the unmanned aircraft.

Amendments to the Civil Aeronautics Act enacted earlier this month laid down a list of drone regulations, including a ban on flights over crowded residential areas or around airports without permission from the transport minister.

Afterward, the official acknowledged the importance of setting rules to ensure safety but also noted that exceedingly strict regulations could hamper the budding industry.

“(The government) should hold off on imposing detailed restrictions on drone use by operators,” the official said.

According to the Japan UAS Industrial Development Association, which consists of businesses and research institutes related to unmanned aircraft systems, drones have proliferated rapidly in recent years with the drop in sensor and gyroscope costs.

Models produced by Chinese maker DJI account for about 70 percent of all drone sales in Japan.

At a large appliance retailer in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, about 10 models are available. Camera-equipped aircraft cost from ¥10,000 to about ¥30,000, with most of the buyers men in their 30s or older.

“The number of manufacturers and models have increased in the past few months. They can loop the loop and are popular,” a sales representative said.

Drones were thrust into the spotlight in Japan after a small radioactive one eventually found on the roof of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo in April sparked a security scandal.

Models for outdoor use were initially popular, but after talks on regulation began, customer demand shifted to small, less expensive models for indoor use, the sales representative said. The models typically sell for several thousand yen.

In Japan, thousands of large models are being used to spray agricultural chemicals, while about 20,000 are employed for aerial photography and videography, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. There are more than 200,000 small, toy-type models in use around the country.

In Japan, drones have mainly been used for agrochemical spraying, but they are finding greater use in surveying tasks, helped in part by improved camera performance, Japan UAS Industrial Development Association officials said.

Research is also underway on using drones to maintain dilapidated bridges or transport supplies to remote islands or other sparsely populated areas.

“The aerial space up to 150 meters high, where airplanes are barred, has not been fully utilized, and drones can open a lot of opportunities,” said Tomoyuki Kumada, secretary-general of the association.

“Rules need to be worked out for crashes, but we hope free use will be protected as much as possible,” Kumada said.