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(Yonhap Feature) Drone industry sees bright future amid deregulation drive

All News 09:00 June 03, 2016

By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- Flying at an altitude of 150 meters and a speed of 60 kilometers per hour, a small unmanned aerial vehicle delivers a parcel to mountain regions that are tough to reach either by humans or manned vehicles. It is equipped with situational awareness technology to avoid obstacles in the air.

Miniature copters will soon be a common sight in the near future, delivering packages, saving lives in the ocean and monitoring wildfires in an industry that is forecast to boom.

The South Korean market for commercial technology of unmanned aerial vehicles is currently estimated at around 27.8 billion won (US$23.4 million) and expected to expand to 1 trillion won in 2019, according to government data.

In an effort to promote the commercialization of the new growth industrial sector, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Korea Institute of Aviation Safety Technology co-hosted "Go Drone 2016" at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul between May 28 and 29.

With the participation of more than 60 government organizations and firms from the aviation and drone industries, the two-day event offered visitors the chance to experience a wide range of the latest drone technologies and watch a drone race hosted by the nation's largest fixed line operator KT Corp.

"Up until recently, many people thought that drones were just for military purposes and had nothing to do with their everyday lives," said Lee Yong-min, a drone engineer of the quasi-government Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute. "It will likely change in a few years."

Remote controlled aircraft have now branched out from just being used in the military and special commercial sectors to homes everywhere, since they are now not only cheaper, but also users can even operate them with a smartphone.

"It used to be a niche hobby," said 33-year-old Kim Soo-chan who races drones for recreational purposes. "There were not that many hobbyists as it took a lot of time to build and skill to operate them."

The first step is to draft laws and other regulations for the commercial use of drones so that non-military applications can revolutionize hundreds of industries in the future, Lee said.

The institute, which also opened a booth at the event, is currently carrying out various projects with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

"Many say drones provide huge benefits. However, there are also many adverse effects," Lee said, noting that the government is mapping out various systems so that the drones can be flown safely and to protect citizens from possible mishaps.

Lee said there has yet been no collision or civil casualties reported in the country but there were many overseas, citing as an example an unidentified drone that came close to hitting an airplane at Heathrow International Airport in London.

Drones have also raised privacy and terrorism concerns as they carry cameras and sensors and can go just about anywhere.

"There will be chaos if drones are not managed systemically," Lee said, forecasting that the government will complete the system in about four to six years.

The government plans to designate certain altitudes for the exclusive use of drones, and the institute is currently developing so-called "surveillance drones" that can crack down on commercial drones whizzing by at unauthorized altitudes, Lee said.

The event comes after the Seoul government in May unveiled a series of regulations over the drone industry as part of its broad deregulation efforts aimed at boosting the sagging economy and creating more jobs.

Designating the drone industry as one with high growth potential, the government decided to expand drone-related projects and increase exclusive drone flight zones.

The panel on investment in new industries, affiliated with the Office for Government Policy Coordination, had received 151 deregulation recommendations from business circles. The government decided to address 141 of them, or 93 percent of the total.

Under the plan, the government will approve drone-related businesses except for those that may undermine the safety of citizens or national security, loosen up rules to produce more drone pilots, and create a one-stop agency to give out drone flying permissions.

"The government will establish safety systems necessary and eliminate various regulations," Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said while participating at the event.

Many of the visitors also flocked to view the drone race "Drone No. 1 KT."

A total of eight racers controlled drones equipped with cameras while wearing goggles showing them a live stream camera feed from the drones. The goal was to complete a set course as quickly as possible.

First Person View (FPV) drone racing began as an amateur sport in Australia and now has professional leagues in other countries, said Oh Sung-kye, a KT official in charge of the race. In South Korea, there are some 200 FPV amateur racers and 2,000 recreational racers.

Kim Min-chan, a 13-year-old racer who won the free race at World Drone Prix 2016 in Dubai in March as the youngest racer, also grabbed the first prize on May 29.

"I first began flying RC helicopters when I was three years old," said Kim in a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency after the race. He also showed excitement at beating other racers much older and more experienced than him.

"I wish there can be more places where I can freely fly my drones," Kim said when asked about the government move to ease regulations.


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