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Innovation investment: UVS sector needs reasonable regulations and R&D commitment

The phenomenal growth in the use of unmanned vehicle systems by the world’s militaries has contributed to the “coming of age” of much of this technology and has generated growing interest by public and private sector organizations looking for solutions to a multitude of non-military problems. Canadian organizations and companies continue to be at the forefront of much of the innovative technology that has contributed to the sector’s growth.

Long standing companies like CDL Systems, MMIST, General Dynamics Canada, Meggitt Defence, and others who were there at the incubation of unmanned systems, have flourished and developed a world-wide market for their products and services. Other, newer companies with innovative technology have grown up around the country and are making significant in-roads into both the military and commercial markets.

Canada also remains at the forefront of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) with significant development being conducted on both the east and west coasts of Canada. Much of that work is now focusing on under ice operations that will, no doubt, contribute to a better understanding of what is happening off our third coast in the Canadian Arctic and contribute to government policy development for Arctic sovereignty.

Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) have been in use across the country for many years. Canadian companies have well established, and in many cases, world-leading systems and technologies that are contributing to the increased safety of our military, police officers and general public on a daily basis.

On the research and development front, many universities and institutes across Canada are engaged in developing innovative technology such as flapping wing and perching unmanned aircraft, researching human factors that will contribute to a more standardized approach to control stations, and ocean floor and under-ice mapping.

In the public and private sector, Canada is leading the way. The Kenora detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police conducted the first operational UAV flight in police duties in 2007. Since then, they have conducted many operational missions to collect crime scene images. Recently, the OPP received a standing Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada allowing them to operate throughout most of the province.

On the regulatory front, Transport Canada has been addressing the challenge of integrating unmanned air vehicles into Canadian airspace. The final report from the UAV working group has recommended changes to the Canadian Air Regulations (CARs) in order to integrate unmanned aircraft into domestic airspace. A second Transport Canada working group has reviewed and amended staff instructions used to evaluate applications for Special Flight Operations Certificates (SFOCs) for UAV flights in domestic airspace.

Challenges
While the Canadian UVS sector is doing well, significant challenges still exist. Canada is a large, sparsely populated country where unmanned vehicles should be playing important roles. However, the full integration of unmanned aircraft is still far out in the future. As countries like Australia, South Africa and others more aggressively address the issues surrounding the integration of unmanned aircraft into their air space, Canada is seeing the loss of innovative companies who are moving their operations to these countries.

The lack of research and development funding by the provincial and federal governments seriously affects the ability of smaller Canadian companies and organizations to push UVS innovation.

As a national association, UVS Canada is engaged in the development of standards, education, and lobbying to ensure that Canada benefits from this innovative, home-grown technology and the Canadian UVS sector remains competitive on the world stage.

UVS Canada continues to work with government regulators to try and address the increasing demands from public and private sector organizations who wish to operate unmanned vehicles for applications varying from pipeline and power corridor security, resource policing and habitat monitoring, riot control, surveying, to the huge role they could play in northern sovereignty and ecological security.

It is not unreasonable to think that with a more reasonable regulatory environment and sufficient R&D funding, Canada, with its wide open skies, vast land mass, and expanse of water, could be a world leader in the commercial use of unmanned systems.

Pip Rudkin is vice-chair of UVS Canada (www.uvscanada.org).

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