By @SimonCocking. Great Irish Drone insights with Gearóid Ó Briain and Oisin McGrath, two of Ireland’s leading Drone operators, experts and innovators. Co-founders of FlyRyte Drone Academy and  DroneSAR

Since Ireland brought in the drone legislation at the end of 2015? How has it been over the last 15 approx months in terms of regularising drone usage in Ireland?

So one of the biggest issues about the regulation in Ireland is awareness. The IAA were very progressive in the regulation they produced, partly driven by the fact that having complicated or restrictive regulation would be very difficult to enforce and partly driven by progressive thinking with the new director of safety regulation, Mr. Ralph James. Although the rules are great in some ways, a lot of misconceptions have crept in, the two biggest include people thinking that recreational and commercial flying are different and that if your drone is less than 1kg that the rules don’t apply to you. The new rules don’t make a distinction between commercial and non-commercial work, it is all based on risk. So if you want to fly in a lot of the big cities (Dublin and Cork for example) there are a lot of restrictions, whether you are using your drone to make money or just for fun. This is because these areas are covered by controlled airspace and generally you can only fly up to 50 feet or 15metres. Up to now it has been really difficult to know where these areas are, and there was no available resource to find out unless you get specific training. For that reason we developed an interactive airspace map. It has a search function or you can just click where you want to fly and it tells you whether there are any restrictions, it’s really simple and people love it. The second misconception about weight comes from the fact that the statutory instrument, which is the secondary legislation which covers the use of drones is designed for drones between 1kg and 25kg. It doesn’t cover drones less than 1kg PROVIDED you fly below 15 metres/ 50 feet. However, if you want to fly above 50f feet then you have to follow the same rules as anyone else.

From your perspective what has the last year or so been like? Is drone usage still rising?

It is definitely still rising. The downstream applications are really starting to develop. We have just passed the stage of the ‘early-adopters’ which happens with every technology and moving into the technology becoming more mainstream. Recently, two of my friends from home who have no specific use for a drone purchased one. They just want it for fun and the price-point is right. They view it as an accessory rather than something that has to provide a specific return on investment. This demonstrates the transition from someone purchasing a sensor which happens to fly to people who purchase because of the idea of what the drone is and what it can do. With this massive increase in the target market there has been a corresponding increase in the numbers who are flying in a way that could hurt the industry. The early adopters all wanted to capitalise on their head-start and so a lot of them trained with one of the various schools around the country. We still see a lot of people engaging in the training but it is relatively expensive if you are not using your drone commercially so there is a big gap in education for those thousands of people who are buying drones but don’t want to go down the route of getting a licence. With that in mind we have spent the last months developing an online course to fill this gap in education. The course takes just three hours to complete, it’s fun and interactive and covers all the essentials. We are trying to figure out how to get the course into school curriculum. Increasingly you see schools engage with coding training for our future entrepreneurs, doing the same with technology such as drones is a logical step.

Are the machines improving? (DJI 4 seemed better than 3 for example). How soon might we see closer to an hour and beyond of fly time?

The curve is crazy and it’s heading off the charts. We used to compare it to mobile phone companies bringing out new iterations every year but it is a bad comparison. The phone has the same technologies, with slight improvements. It’s different with the drones. A phantom 1, 2, 3 & 4 are completely different aircraft. The change in 3 years is incredible. DJI recently brought out the Mavic and it is another leap into what was beyond what people expected. The increase in flying time is subject to two things really, battery technology and aircraft design. The battery technology is a big weak point as there is only so much you can do with LiPo technology. If an alternative power supply is found that will allow for a new generation of aircraft but for the moment the big gains come from cumulative small gains. Examples include a decrease in size of components such as flight controllers, receivers and camera sensors, which decreases the weight, thus increasing the endurance. The mavic is about 50% battery!

What are you excited about for next 12 months?

There are some amazing people out there who are using drones for things they weren’t designed for. I love aerial photography and videography but it is use cases like search & rescue that really excite me. Our partner company, DroneSAR is developing software that transforms basic DJI drones into Search & Rescue (SAR) aircraft. When you deliver an affordable machine into the hands of volunteers, who are the best people in this world in my opinion, you get a very powerful combination. These people are going to change how we view drones. They are also going to force regulators internationally to be progressive and work with industry to make sensible rules that include all stakeholders. Drones have been involved in several rescue missions, but this year, DroneSAR are confident that someone will be saved who otherwise would not have been so lucky. That is mission accomplished for them and an amazing day for the drone industry.

Which Irish based drone pilots have been capturing interesting footage recently?

It is very hard to single anyone out to be honest. We are lucky enough to meet amazing people as we complete flight examinations for pilots on a continuous basis. Some consider themselves pilots who are learning about cameras, others are photographers who are learning about drones to gain a new perspective. The results that we see are incredible. It is worth mentioning people like SkyTango who are developing a marketplace for drones, the civil defence who have a fairly advanced drone programme and Cork City Council, Dublin, Limerick and Galway Fire Brigades and Geological Survey of Ireland who are all using drones for good.

You were at the recent drone expo, what were people most interested in?

We got plenty of interest in training but most people wanted to understand the rules better. Some people seemed a little hesitant to ask at first. This may have been that they were worried they were flying illegally ad that we are the fun police. We aren’t! After a few minutes chatting with people we were able to help to explain what they specific rules were for people based on where they were from. I gave a talk on drone regulation and I always keep an eye on the crowd to see when people perk up. Every time I put up a slide about ‘how much to charge’ I could see phones come out and people would start snapping away! Because of this one piece of observed feedback we have included all of that as part of the online course, there are still lots of people who want to make some money by setting up a part time operations!

FPV, are you still active in it, and how is it developing in Ireland?

It is developing really well. I was the first race director of a national competition for first-person-racing using goggles to see what the drone can see but competition was back in December 2015. Since then, I have gotten too busy to race myself and so handed over the baton to Jaak Pieterse. Jaak is amazing and incredibly enthusiastic, which is really contagious and has led to him gathering a team of great people around him. They did a fantastic job of organising the second national championship in Mondello last Summer, and the winners went on to represent Ireland at the European Rotor Sports Association’s event in Spain. To expand on the last question, these guys probably were the biggest hit at the recent expo, they certainly got the most airtime on RTE!

See more about the guys below and some useful resources too.

FPV site

Business Showcase : DroneSAR

Gearóid Ó Briain CEO of FlyRyte Drone Academy & co-founder of DroneSAR – Search & Rescue.

He has ten years experience as a military flight instructor for manned aircraft and is currently studying a MBA in Smurfit Graduate Business School in Dublin. He has spent the three years presenting on drone tech and providing consulting services for regulation development and helping drone startups. If it flies he loves it.

Oisin McGrath: Head of Training, FlyRyte Drone Academy and CEO, DroneSAR – Search & Rescue.

Oisin is is a serving military helicopter instructor & examiner with experience across a huge range of flying roles including military ops, police aviation and air ambulance. He has a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and a passion for unmanned aircraft technology. He is qualified military & civilian unmanned aircraft instructor/examiner. Using his love for Search & Rescue he co-founded DroneSAR, a company designing software that enables commercial drones with a range of rescue specific functions. He is also co-founder of FlyRyte Drone Academy where he designs and delivers approved Groundschool courses, Flight training programmes and Flight examination procedures.

Business Showcase : FlyRyte Drone Academy

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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