When Terrapinn launched the Commercial UAV Show in 2014, drones were not the common topic of national conversation they are today.
“The whole industry is about to explode, it’s getting bigger and bigger,” general manager Adam Shaw tells EN.
Drone and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles to you and me) have historically been associated with the military, but Terrapinn launched Commercial UAV to provide a home for the steadily increasing commercial side of the industry.
“Companies are realising that the whole military side is finite, and there are a lot of people who don’t want to touch it,” he explains. “The commercial side is where it’s growing. It’s topical, you watch something like Blue Planet II, it’s become more accepted. It’s now becoming part of the public consciousness and we’re getting more used to seeing them.
“The real growth will come from these huge infrastructure companies. It costs £8m to do this and that, whereas with a drone it costs £10,000. That’s what’s really grabbing people’s attention.”
The show floor at Commercial UAV manages to display the wide range of products available to the commercial market, from a drone no bigger than a dinner plate to vehicles that can only be described as miniature planes. There is also plenty of software on display, helping to increase the versatility of what they can be used for.
In the centre of the show floor – taking pride of place – is a giant demonstration area surrounded by black netting, allowing UAV manufacturers to demonstrate the remarkable capabilities of their machines. Elsewhere, on a nearby stand, a small spherical drone is own carefully through a glass obstacle course.
Seeing drones in action gives you a small indication of what the technology might be able to achieve.
“We’re focusing on their commercial use,” continues Shaw. “How companies can use them to inspect pipelines, inspect oil rigs, things that they’d previously spend millions of pounds and millions of hours getting people out to inspect.”
The ashy uses of drones that often make the headlines – Amazon’s ambitious ‘Prime Air’ delivery system comes to mind – are far from being where their real potential lies.
These are however extensive regulations which are seriously limiting how drones can be used, both in the UK and overseas.
“You can’t fly a drone further than you can see it, which limits things a lot,” Shaw explains. “That’s beginning to change and there’s new regulation coming in that will affect that.
“In a country like the UK, so many people live near airports and there’s also the terror threat, so you have to think about that quite carefully. In places like Canada and the US, if you have a 1000- mile pipeline you want to inspect then the regulations really limit you.”
Brexit may have a significant impact on the industry, as many of the regulations restricting how drones can be used cover the wider European Union.
Health and safety concerns, regulations and more are covered in the Commercial UAV Conference, a paid-for event that runs alongside the free exhibition.
The conference content is aimed at the businesses using the vehicles to save significant amounts of money and revolutionise the way they do business. Visitors to the free exhibition, on the other hand, can vary from parents and those with a casual interest to photographers and surveyors looking to understand more about how the technology can improve their businesses.
“It’s affordable,” says Shaw. “You can go to the shop and spend £100 and buy a drone, but at the moment they’re maybe not that good. I think in a couple of years those £100 ones will be much better quality.”
In any event, Terrapin appears to have pre-empted a zeitgeist, and are now four years into running an event for a young, ambitious industry – one that’s developing rapidly.
“We’re growing and growing,” concludes Shaw. “There’s a really good feeling here, there’s a lot of trust in us because we’ve been around from the start. Outside of the US we’re definitely seen as industry leaders.“It’s given us a lot of confidence to try new things, which is really exciting.”
Editor’s note: This feature appeared in the December issue of EN. The digital edition is available now.