World of Drones Congress 2017 Reflection

On Thursday 30th August and Friday 1st September I had the pleasure of attending the World of Drones Congress and I found it extremely valuable. Despite it being targeted mostly at those wanting to break into the drone industry, as an educator I found it highly relevant to what we are trying to navigate our way around in schools. I learned so much; it was an eyeopening experience and I am so thankful to my school for supporting my application to attend.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 11.10.25 am

So, for those that couldn’t be there I thought I’d write down just some of my learnings and thoughts, particularly now that I’ve had a chance to process them!

My thoughts on Drones in general:

I walked out of the Congress absolutely blown away by the possibilities of drones. Basically, DRONES ARE COOL! The number of applications that the various speakers and presenters spoke about during the congress that they are already using drones for blew my mind. Here’s just a few:

  • Film and TV – there are film companies that solely work in filming with the use of drones and movie companies are slowly embracing the technology. Stephen Oh of XM2 Drones in Cinematography spoke about the boundaries between films using drones and how if the technology can be proved to work for TV, then they are more likely to take that technology on board in films. He told us about his work with the film crew on the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie and how it took a while for them to trust the technology. By the end of the shoot they were using the drones in ways they had originally never imagined because of the trust they had formed with the team of flyers.
  • Facebook – that’s right, Facebook is getting into the world of drones! They want to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” but this isn’t possible if people cannot get connected through the internet. Therefore, their plan to fly a drone called Aquila above the height of commercial aeroplanes and have it beam mobile phone networks down to countries that currently do not have access to them is thought to be able to solve this conundrum. Issues that spokesperson Kathryn Cook spoke about included the fact that there are no global laws for drones, that each country has their own laws and regulations and if Facebook is to fly a drone around the world, they will need countries to work together to create laws that are able to be upheld and enforced on a global scale.
  • Flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) – James Dean from SenSat spoke about how his company is investigating the uses of drones in terms of digitally mapping locations. He spoke about the complications when it comes to needing to keep drones in sight and how this is often time consuming. He used the example of mapping London digitally – because they need to keep the drone in sight at all times, the process took a significantly long time. However, if they were able to fly BVLOS, then the project would have take half the time, if not even less. The advantage of having digital models of cities, construction sites, and other locations is slowly being realised and will allow different industries to use the data collected for a variety of applications.
  • Biosecurity – Felipe Gonzales of QUT spoke about how they are investigating the use of drones to monitor crop growth and health. He highlighted the importance of the industry working with potential buyers to ensure that the drone is easily useable and meets the needs of the buyer.

There was a lot of talk about Autonomous Vehicles and how they will change the way we think about car ownership. There was discussion around the complications involved in delivery drones, particularly with regards to how will the drone recognise the person/location and how will it drop off its delivery? It was clear to see that all of the applications they want to use drones for certainly came with limitations and big questions that would need answering first.

My thoughts on Laws and Regulations for Drones:

It was clear that the currents laws and regulations surrounding the use of drones are not up to the task of ensuring that people are using them safely. For example, I had no idea that there was an app called “Can I fly there?” designed by CASA to help people work out if they are legally allowed to fly a drone in a particular area. I downloaded the app and did a search on my house. I discovered that as long as I flew in one direction I would be fine, but if I flew in the opposite direction I would be breaking all sorts of laws and regulations because I am too close to an approach for an airport.

There were too many other issues discussed for me to list here, but I will share my takeaways in terms of what certain speakers presented as possible solutions to the issue:

  • Need to be proactive, not reactive – Dr Lisa Frye from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning suggested that we, as attendees of the World of Drone Congress 2017, have the potential to influence the laws and regulations that are created around drones. The industry needs to work WITH the government and education bodies to create the necessary laws and regulations that will govern the use of drones, and then be able to work with educators to teach these laws and regulations in schools (more on this further down).
  • Drones and planes – Gary Pohlner of Virgin Australia scared us all with some terrifying facts about drone encounters and the Virgin Australia fleet. These encounters clearly happen because the general population is not aware of where they are allowed to fly drones and how high they can fly them. Gary also spoke about how the colour of a drone can be a real problem. He used the example of a blue drone on a day with day with clear blue skies, the flight crew did not see the drone until it passed directly across the windscreen of the plane on approach to the airport. Gary suggested that if it were possible to tag drones with some sort of tracker then they could be displayed on aircraft instruments that would allow them to make adjustments to their flight paths in stead of forcing flight crews to react quickly to keep their passengers safe.
  • Public acceptance of rules and responsibilities – Paddy Goodall from Airservices spoke about the importance of working with the regular consumer to create laws and regulations that are easily understood and enforced, otherwise there is no point to them. He highlighted the fact that there are current laws and regulations in place, but because law enforcement agencies currently do not have the capabilities of enforcing these laws, people are getting away with things because they either don’t know they are breaking the rules, or know but don’t care because no one is currently doing anything about it.

An interesting point was made by an audience member about how best to educate the general public on the use of commercial and recreational drones. He suggested that when someone purchases a drone for personal use, that it becomes the retailers job to give a quick overview of the laws and regulations surrounding that particular drone and how to access the information on where they will be able to fly it. The purchaser would then sign a contract stating that they had received this information. The audience member said that he’s modelled this off what happens when a customer purchases a mobile phone.

My thoughts on Drones and Education:

The whole reason I went to the World of Drones Congress 2017 was to investigate what drones will mean for education and I was not disappointed. Here’s my top 5 learnings in terms of the implication of drones on education:

  1. I am pleased to report that every speaker reinforced the fact that educators are not the only ones responsible for teaching the next generation of drone users. The best recipe for success in terms of educating the next generation will happen if Government + Industry + Education work together to inform best practice.
  2. The drone is just the tool, we still need to teach the skills that allows them to do something with the data the drone has collected.
  3. Drones are a problem based solution, not a solution looking for a problem
  4. Drones and STEAM go hand in hand. Once you’ve found a problem, ask the students to create a solution using their imagination (the Art of STEAM), and then use the other components of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to then refine and make the design.
  5. The younger we challenge our students with problem based learning, the more likely they will be able to take on bigger and bigger challenges as they get older, thus preparing them for a future that we are not 100% sure on what they will need to do, what skills they will need to have, and what problems they will need to solve.

Since attending the World of Drones Congress 2017, I have already issued a quick “design your own drone” challenge and was blown away by the designs that my students created. The students of now and of the future will be the ones that embrace this technology and do amazing things with it.

Final thoughts:

The opening key note for the World of Drones Congress 2017 was presented by Thomas Frey, a man that is well known for the quote:

“2 billion jobs to disappear by 2030.”

When he spoke about this quote he highlighted the fact that it wasn’t supposed to be a doom and gloom statement, but rather a wake up call. If there are 2 billion jobs in the next 13 years that are able to be replaced by robots or drones or some other piece of technology, then we must look at this as there being 2 billion jobs worth of people with free time. Frey said:

“We’re not automating jobs out of existence, only tasks… One way to look at it is that we’re eliminating jobs but freeing up human capital… Just because there are no jobs doesn’t mean there isn’t any work to be done.”

He spoke so passionately about the possibilities of drones and technology and ended his presentation with a quote that had a massive impact on me and how I now look at the way that I teach and challenge my students:

“We are limited only by our imagination.”

 

A selection of photos from the exhibition room at the World of Drones Congress 2017

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