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Japanese robot panel to drive drone progress past U.S. rivals

Mon 9 Mar 2015

While the U.S. dithers over drone regulation, the Japanese government is pushing its domestic drone industry by fast-tracking policy through a dedicated national advisory committee.

Taking the edge over the United States, leading tech manufacturers in Japan such as Yamaha and security firm Semco are researching and developing new drone technologies and solutions, with the help of a team of government advisers, appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Robot Revolution Realisation Committee will be reviewing pre-existing laws regarding radio and civil aeronautics, and setting up guidelines around industry best practice. An additional panel will discuss strategy with firms to help launch new drone activity across business zones in Tokyo and other major cities for extended trial periods.

According to a number of sources, the Fukushima area, hit by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, could become a “field test zone” for the new robotic and drone technologies without regulatory limits.

“We want to keep an eye on the world’s drone market, starting with the United States, and consider Japan’s way of doing things,” said Tamotsu Nomakuchi, head of the dedicated robot panel. “It’s not about copying other markets, but learning about them and creating something better.”

Currently, the only regulations in Japan state that drones must fly below 150 metres and at least 5.6 miles away from airports. Aviation laws also require that agricultural drones have to operators – Today over 2,500 drones are used in farming in Japan to spray pesticide on rice crops.

According to spokesman Kenji Otuski, Yamaha are looking to develop drone technology to be used in border control and patrolling gas and oil pipelines. Secom has also announced that it will be releasing a surveillance drone for small businesses which takes photos of an intruder once an alarm sounds.

With the launch of the new Robot Revolution Committee, Japanese industry experts are dubbing 2015 “Year One of the Era of the Drone.”

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