Regulations have been tightened since a drone was landed atop the prime minister’s office in April, but these aircraft are still expected to make great contributions in a wide variety of industries, from construction to agriculture, and the market shows no sign of slowing.
It will take more than just better-quality drones, however, for Japanese companies to catch up to their Chinese counterparts. More than anything, it will be crucial for Japan to create a safe flying environment for the devices.
In August, Sony Corp. established Aerosense Inc., a new robotics development venture. Aerosense develops both helicopter and airplane-type drones that are manufactured in Japan. It will start leasing helicopter-type drones in the first half of 2016, and hopes to generate JPY 10 billion (about $83,628,000) in sales by fiscal 2020.
Aerosense’s drones are expected to serve a variety of purposes, including surveys and progress checks of construction and civil engineering sites. “We’ve already been approached by over 100 companies, both inside and outside of Japan,” Aerosense President Hisashi Taniguchi said enthusiastically. “It’s more than we ever envisioned.”
In February, construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu began a survey service where drones are used to film prospective construction sites, with video of the rugged land surface converted to three-dimensional data.
Fujitsu has long conducted infrastructure checks through visual and hammering tests, and is developing technology to perform these checks from the air.
NEC Corp., one of the sponsors of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, is contemplating how to utilize drones for the Tokyo Games.
Researchers including Kenzo Nonami, a distinguished professor at Chiba University and the leader of drone research in Japan, established a venture company to put domestic drones to practical use for aerial filming and farm use. One drone is being utilized to measure radiation doses in Fukushima.
According to the market research company Seed Planning, Inc., the domestic market for drones is expected to rise from JPY 1.6 billion in 2015 to JPY 18.6 billion in 2020. U.S. market research company Frost & Sullivan expects that by 2020, business-use drones alone will generate $6.4 billion (roughly Rs. 42,128 crores) in worldwide sales.
Although “drone” has only recently become a buzzword, the aircraft themselves have been used for decades in agriculture and other fields.