Wed, Jun 24, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Taichung drones track polluters

THE DOWNSIDE:The soaring popularity of aerial drones has triggered safety and privacy concerns and prompted calls for tighter legislation to govern their use

Staff writer, with CNA

The Taichung Environmental Protection Bureau is turning to drones to catch polluters damaging air quality by burning dry straw on open ground.

Bureau officials said they are turning to aerial surveillance because patrol vehicles on the ground are no longer enough.

The drones can collect data that can immediately be relayed to ground patrols, which can then rush to the scene in time to apprehend the culprits, the officials added.

Using drones for aerial photography became popular in Taiwan after the 2013 release of the documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above (看見台灣).

Online store operators estimate that the volume of camera-equipped drones sold this year in Taiwan is eight times that during the same period last year, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported on Monday.

The newspaper cited an owner of an aerial photography company as saying that when he began his business three years ago, there were only about 20 competitors in the local market.

By last year, the number of professional photographers competing against him had grown to more than 100, he said, adding: “Competition is tough.”

Drones for aerial photography can now be deployed for a wide spectrum of tasks, ranging from helping police chase fugitives and aiding scientists in collecting data from remote locations such as craters, to spreading pesticide on farms, said Tsai Wen-chen (蔡文珍), a manager at Thunder Tiger, a Taichung-based company that specializes in developing and manufacturing remote-controlled vehicles.

However, the increasing popularity of drones for aerial photography has triggered safety and privacy concerns because they exist in a legal gray area.

The Civil Aviation Act (民用航空法) bans the use of remote-controlled aircraft in “restricted areas,” military bases and places surrounding airports, with violators subject to fines of up to NT$1.5 million (US$48,384).

Without regulations governing drone flight areas and ranges, law enforcement authorities are often unable to halt privacy offenses and accidents caused by the unmanned aircraft, National Cheng Kung University aeronautics and astronautics professor Lai Wei-hsiang (賴維祥) said.

Even though they fly at relatively low altitudes and at low speeds, drones can cause safety problems, he said, noting that one accidentally crashed into a private residence several years ago, triggering a fire.

There must be laws that stipulate the permitted air space for drones and the qualifications of the people operating the remote control systems, Lai said.

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