Mention drones and immediately people thinks of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) used in conflict zones.
UAVs are game changers when it comes to aerial reconnaissance and have advanced the field by leaps from the early 1900s when tiny cameras were fitted to pigeons.
Drones are quickly replacing people and high-flying aircraft and have grown to be a force to be reckoned with.
According to The Economist, when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it had a couple of hundred drones; by the time it left, it had almost 10,000.
And with the help of improving technology, drones are no longer just used for reconnaissance for the military.
In civilian life, drones are also changing the face of logistics, photography, surveillance and reconnaissance, to name just a few fields.
Amazon.com, founded by Jeff Bezos as a website to buy books in 1995 recently asked the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for an exemption from rules prohibiting the use of drones for commercial purposes.
Amazon’s PrimeAir is a proposed delivery system to get packages into the hands of customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.
If they get the necessary approvals from the FAA, this could change the entire delivery ecosystem. Another sector that is transforming itself with the help of the drones is photography.
Having come a long way from photo processing labs in hot air balloon and camera-fitted pigeons, aerial photography is being taken to another level thanks to drones.
To photograph a view of the world from the sky, it’s no longer necessary to even get off the living room couch and this has been vital for industries that include plantations, media, construction and law enforcement.
The Star has been using camera-equipped drones to provide readers with better photographic angles. Camera-equipped drones are also quickly becoming a hit among ordinary people who are looking for the next tool to take more interesting photos of themselves.
Capitalising on this market is Bob Hartley, a former engineer from the United Kingdom and Dr Johan Arriffin Samad, a retired Malaysian oil and gas executive.
The duo formed Dragonfly Robotix some 18 months ago and are positioning the company as a leading Asian drone technology player.
The company received funding from well-known angel investor Bob Chua. Although he declined to reveal the exact amount, it is believed that the funding was in the low seven-digit range.
Dragonfly Robotix is already making waves in its home base of Sabah especially in the oil and gas and agriculture sectors.
Chua says he was attracted to the project as it was something new in the region and it had the potential for greater things.
“We are the first to get approval from the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) and this is going to be a huge game changer in several industries.
“Using the latest advances in technology to produce a high-quality service with unique perspectives, this tool can be widely used by those who need survey a large area,” said Chua.
“Imagine being able to supply photographs for environmental assessment purposes and photographic evidence for the monitoring of pollution, present images of roads, access points and traffic flows to assist planning or to search large areas of land within a few minutes and provide video feedback in real time during a search and rescue mission. Anything is possible,” said Chua.
Dragonfly Robotix currently has 15 drones in its stable, and each can be modified to meet a client’s needs and demands as the company designs, builds, maintains and fly their own UAVs.
With high-definition cameras, satellite navigation systems and telemetry recording, the technology surrounding the aerial photographic platforms is developing at a rapid rate and Chua believes Malaysia is ahead of the curve when it comes to exploiting the potential offered by drones.
“Civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles is a brand new field globally. Not many have know-how in it.
Malaysia is not short of talent when it comes to mechatronics engineersg and robotics development according to Chua, but he says it is about time that angel investors started looking at robotics as the new frontier.
“We are not India or China, which rely on industries such as outsourcing centres. In order to become a high-income nation, we have to look beyond what already exists,” said Chua.
“By creating an ecosystem and high-profile companies, we can create opportunities for venture capitalist to invest in Malaysian companies and immediately taking them to the next level,” he added.
With drone technologies growing faster than other current technologies, it is only a matter of time before the entire aerospace industry is revitalised.
According to a report by CNBC, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International — the world’s largest unmanned systems industry organisation — forecasts the total domestic economic impact of introducing drones into US airspace by the FAA’s 2015 deadline would reach more than US$82.1 billion (RM261.6 billion) between 2015 and 2025.
Those projections, if accurate, point the way to an area that holds potential not just for Dragonfly Robotix, but also Malaysia as a whole.