Drones can be used for lots of things besides taking selfies. There are many more of them available now for applications as wide-ranging as helping to increase crop yields, delivering medical equipment in an emergency, or even fighting fires in tall buildings.
The Drones for Business event, held on 20 November 2018, showcased that variety and also made clear how well-designed many of them are. The panel, hosted Bangkok Entrepreneurs at True Incube in Bangkok, featured Thailand’s leading drone businesses showcasing their newest innovations. Panelists discussed trends in business applications of unmanned aerial systems and how regulations will be needed to support those activities.
Panelists also discussed the status of Thailand’s drone regulations, coming from agencies such as the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand and the National Broadcast and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). The discussion on regulations for non-military drones brought out many of the issues that concern both industry and federal regulators. Panelists also responded to audience questions from the audience of about 50 interested members of the public.
The panel was moderated by Bart Medici, founder of Bangkok Entrepreneurs. The panel featured leaders from five prominent businesses:
- Khun Tanate Duangpatra (Tom), founder of ThaiSky Digital
- Dr. Mahisorn Wongphati (Chang), co-founder of HG Robotics
- Khun Thamma Varangoon (Pie), of aerial survey firm CentrovisioN
- Michael Currie, founder of Fling
- Dr. Narut Soontranon, Senior Data Scientist at Krungsri Bank and co-founder of DevDroneMapper
After each speaker introduced their business, Mr. Medici led off the questioning with a provocative one: how soon will he be able to receive a beer delivered by drone to his balcony? From this, the discussion progressed to a discussion about various drone applications as well as the state of Thailand’s drone regulations.
Mr. Medici asked several questions:
- What is the status of Drones in Thailand now? (who can fly them? where? under what conditions?)
- What are the opportunities in term of business (drone spraying? surveillance? inspection?)
- Who are the players in the industry? (large corporations? startups? government organizations?)
- What countries are leading the Drone business?
- How is Thailand ranking in term of Drone usage? in term of Drone businesses?
- What are the challenges for Drone activities in general? in Thailand in particular?
- What are the opportunities in Thailand versus other countries?
- Your Drone prediction for 2020?
In Thailand there are approximately 30 drone software and hardware firms, 50 multi-person aerial spraying and photography companies, and perhaps 1000 to 5000 sole proprietors running spraying or aerial photography businesses of various levels of formality. There are about 80,000 consumer or commercial drones in Thailand according to NBTC as of last year. Several members of the audience belonged to other enterprises. Comparisons were drawn between Thailand’s relatively small drone industry and the more advanced state of the drone industry in other countries.
“Leading countries with world-beating drone companies, permissive drone laws and/or with advanced drone management software systems (“UTM”s) include: America, China, UK, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Japan. By far the hardware leader is China. The first wave of drone startups came from Silicon Valley in America, but today you’ll find drone startups all over the world pursuing every drone niche imaginable,” said Currie, in response to a question about which countries are leaders in the drone industry.
Later, Dr. Mahisorn and Khun Tanate gave a detailed run-down of how to obtain regulatory permission for drone activities in Thailand, highlighting the complexity of the process. The panelists agreed that if Thailand had a proper Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) and Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification LAANC authorization system authorized and approved by the government would open the skies.
Currie contended that “any further terrorist use of drones carrying explosives, or drone accidents by reckless individuals striking airplanes causing a large number of casualties, will lead to a major crackdown on even commercial drones. It will also lead to the rapid implementation by governments worldwide of anti-drone systems and drone tracking systems.”
Thailand Drone Events
This event was the latest in an escalating series of Thai industry events aimed at coordinating the firms committed to propelling the Thai drone industry forward in the global league tables. Other events have included:
- 3 May 2018: Thai Drone Industry Kickoff event hosted by Fling, at Gaysorn Resort
- 30 May 2018: Drone Technology Forum, hosted by Entrepnr
- 16 July 2018: Drone Forum, hosted by the Royal Thai Air Force
- 1 Sept 2018: Drones for Tomorrow, hosted by National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA)
- 24 Sept 2018, sponsored by Chulalongkorn Faculty of Law and ThaiCom
- 20 November 2018: Drones for Business, hosted by Bangkok Entrepreneurs
From Left: K. Tanate, Dr. Chang, Mr. Currie, Mr. Medici, Dr. Narut, K. Pie: