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A Drone's Point of View: Switzerland and Denmark


Izzy Santa, Director, Strategic Communications, Consumer Technology Association
A small drone approaches a hole in the concrete wall of a collapsed building. The hole is several inches narrower than the craft’s wingspan, but the drone folds its wings in on itself and zips inside.
 
This is just a test, but the device, developed by researchers at the University of Zurich, opens up new opportunities in search and rescue, giving teams access to otherwise inaccessible sections of damaged buildings and hard-to-reach areas where survivors might become trapped after a disaster.
 
The foldable drone is one of many projects currently in development to put drone technology to use for public safety. Around the world, researchers, entrepreneurs and government leaders have recognized the vast potential of drones in everything from search and rescue applications to identifying unexploded land mines. Some countries are forging ahead faster than others. 
 
In Switzerland, a swath of land between the Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne and Zurich has earned the nickname Drone Valley for the more than 80 drone-focused startups that have sprung up there in recent years.
 
The country, named an Innovation Champion on the 2019 International Innovation Scorecard, welcomes drone development of all kinds.
 
“The federal government intends to maintain the pioneer role and wants to see this industry grow further,” said Przemyslaw Kornatowki, CEO of Wingstra, one of the businesses that opened its doors in Drone Valley. “For anyone working in the sector, that means being able to work with an open-minded government that knows about the needs of research and development, avoiding the nuisance of red tape.”
 
The Swiss government supports drone development through initiatives such as the National Centre of Competence in Research Robotics, which offers grants to entrepreneurs and brings together experts from around the country. These programs have given a shot in the arm to teams developing drones for a range of applications.
 
Swiss company Flyability is developing a drone enveloped in a protective frame that allows it to operate in areas such as mines, where avoiding obstacles is nearly impossible. The company recently realized another one of its public safety ambitions by demonstrating its flagship drone’s ability to operate in the presence of radiation well above safe exposure levels for humans, affording disaster management agencies a new tool to carry out inspections in radioactive areas.  
 
Denmark, another country punching above its weight on the Scorecard, earned similarly high marks in the Drones category for its robust development in the industry.
 
The Innovation Champion enacted the Danish Drone Strategy, a collaboration between the Danish government and five universities in the service of advancing drone research. Since the program launched in 2016, various drone projects have taken flight, including one to design a drone to locate unexploded World War II mines around Denmark.
 
The same year, the Greater Copenhagen Fire Department began training emergency responders to use drones in firefighting and chemical spill scenarios.
 
It didn’t take long for those skills to be put to the test. During a fire in downtown Copenhagen in 2016, aerial drone footage helped firefighters accurately assess whether a burning structure was likely to collapse. Two years later, during another blaze in 2018, a drone equipped with a thermal camera identified a hotspot above a boiler room that firefighters had originally missed, allowing them to put out a fire before it spread.
 
Around the world, as emergency management teams put drones to use in a range of dangerous public safety applications, they will save more and more lives — without risking others.
 
Learn more about the 2019 International Innovation Scorecard.

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