Japan Focuses On Drone Industry

With an aim to give its drone sector an edge over the United States, the government of Japan is looking to fast track industry-friendly regulation.

Companies from motorcycle maker Yamaha Motor to security firm Secom are readying drone technology and services, as advisers to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drive a regulatory overhaul.

The Robot Revolution Realization Committee, an advisory panel appointed by Abe, will review existing radio and civil aeronautics laws and set up industry-run best practice for drones. There is also another panel which is asking companies for ideas on how to open up new special economic zones in Tokyo and other big cities to drones on a test basis. The Fukushima area, blighted by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, could also become a field test zone for robots and drones, largely free of regulation.

Tamotsu Nomakuchi, who heads the robot panel, said the goal is to keep an eye on the world’s drone market, starting with the United States, and consider Japan’s way of doing things.

The only aviation regulations covering drones in Japan require that they fly below 150 meters and at least 9 kms (5.6 miles) away from airports. Drones used in agriculture need two operators, with precautions for the surrounding environment.

The country has been using drones in its farming industry since the 1980s, when an unmanned Yamaha R-50 helicopter took to the air to spray pesticide on rice crops. Today, more than 2,500 agriculture drones are in operation.

Yamaha is now looking to adapt its drone technology for patrolling Japan’s borders or for checking oil and gas pipelines.
Secom will soon a launch a service for small businesses that includes having a surveillance drone that can be scrambled to take photos of an intruder when an alarm sounds. Ricoh, an office equipment maker, has been testing its digital cameras on drones to monitor crop growth in field tests, said new business development manager Wataru Ohtani.

Japanese drone industry supporters have dubbed 2015 ‘Year One of the Era of the Drone.’

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