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Vodafone wants SIM cards in drones to improve safety

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Vodafone UK says drones should be equipped with SIM cards to give them cellular network connectivity, in order to combat improper usage and enable them to be flown beyond “visual line of sight” of their operators.

The network commissioned a report, written by WPI Economics, which found that 80 per cent of people would support more widespread adoption of drones if there was a mechanism to provide increased safety, security and monitoring.

The number of near misses between drones and commercial aircraft is rising every year, and Gatwick was even forced to close for 24 hours in December 2018 due to a drone incident.

Currently, pilots must keep their drones within sight at all times, which limits their use for applications like remote deliveries, transport for medical supplies and infrastructure inspection.

Cellular connectivity would allow pilots to fly their drones much further while creating a way to track and potentially disable problematic devices.

According to the research, 86 per cent of those asked support the idea of using drones for emergency response, 79 per cent back drones being used to assist the police and 61 per cent to help with monitoring as part of environmental conservation.

Financial firm PricewaterhouseCoopers also estimated that by 2030, drones will have contributed to a £42bn increase in UK GDP, and £16bn in annual cost savings to the UK economy.

In the report Vodafone UK calls on the Government to establish a ‘blue light’ drones fund for emergency services and NHS trusts to trial drones for new purposes as well as launch testing facilities for Unmanned Traffic Management systems.

Current drone regulation has been criticised for failing to keep control of the vast number of new, privately-owned devices that have appeared in the last ten years as the technology and gadgets came into fashion.

In November new rules were introduced so that all owners of drones weighing more than 250 grams are obliged to sign a register or risk a £1,000 fine.

Current drone rules stipulate that the craft must be kept no further than 500 metres from view, not within 50 metres of people or structures and not within 150 metres of large gatherings.

Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffery said: “Drones can provide crucial information to emergency services responding to incidents.

“They can assess fires, deliver medical supplies and help businesses survey hazardous conditions such as construction sites, power lines and our own mobile masts quicker and more safely.

“On the flip side, rogue drones can pose security risks. By working in collaboration with government, the public sector and regulators, we can shape legislation to ensure the transition from a consumer toy to a vital support service while protecting our critical infrastructure.”

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