Alberta researchers taking drones to new heights
Transport Canada looking at loosening restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles
High-tech robots being developed by a group of scientists near Medicine Hat, Alta., could soon be used to detect leaks in pipelines or avalanches in the mountains.
The drones are being developed at Canadian Forces Base Suffield to use overseas for gathering information or carrying cargo.
Jared Giesbrecht, who is with Defence Research Development Canada, said the drones will play a crucial role in military missions.
"The reason why we do what we do is to keep soldiers safe and to ease their burden," Giesbrecht said. "That's really the driving force behind this. Many times you'll hear things like the dull, the dirty and the dangerous."
Similar devices are already being used in southern Alberta in agriculture to check crop health, such as nutrient and moisture levels.
The drones currently being used are about the size of a DVD player.
Wendy Blackwell, executive director with the Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, said more uses are already being planned for the devices.
"We're going to start seeing a lot more growth," she said. "It's a real opportunity not only for the southeast, but for Alberta as a whole, to take a leading role."
Elsewhere in the country, at least one section of the Ontario Provincial Police deploys the machines to take high-quality photos of crime scenes and traffic collisions.
"It's something we've already done using manned aviation," Const. Marc Sharpe said. "It's just cheaper, quicker, more efficient."
There are federal rules requiring unmanned vehicles to fly below a certain altitude and in line of sight.
The rules have led private companies to demand an area of restricted airspace to allow them to further develop the technology, said aerospace consultant Bill Werny.
Werny said there are hopes that a national testing site with be created in southern Alberta.
"When we first started, it was little tiny ones that could fit in your hand, micros, now to more things that are autonomous and the technology is really ramping up," Werny said.
Transport Canada is reviewing its policies, making Canada the only country actively looking at loosening restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles.
If policies are changed, experts in the industry say a centre on drones could take off by year's end.