New rules eyed to support commercial use
TOKYO -- The Japanese government plans to revamp regulations so that drones can transmit higher-resolution video from more remote locations, aiming to foster new services while preventing misuse.
Operators already need government permission to fly the aircraft over densely populated areas or close to airports under revised aviation legislation that took effect Dec. 10. Changes to restrictions on radio transmission by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications will form the next step in a national framework to promote drone technology and prevent accidents. The new rules could be written into policy as early as the summer of 2016.
Current drones are commonly operated over Wi-Fi. But heavy traffic on the associated radio frequencies, owing to increasing Internet usage, often makes it difficult to transmit high-quality video. So the ministry seeks to designate frequencies in the now-unused ranges of 5.7GHz and 2.4GHz for use by unmanned aerial vehicles.
Restrictions on broadcasting power will also be loosened in these bands. Radio signals controlling drones are now capped at 10 milliwatts -- sufficient for transmitting images within around 300 meters. The limit will rise to 1 watt, for a range of around 5km.
This will make it easier to send ultrahigh-resolution 4K video, suitable for such applications as spotting small defects in roads or bridges. The ministry plans to sort out technological issues by the end of March and enable use of the new radio bands by summer.
Other measures are being mulled to regulate the commercial use of drones capable of flying beyond the range of human vision. The ministry is considering requiring companies to obtain permits before using the new radio bands, ensuring the safety of longer-range drone use by restricting the number of operators. Such a system would likely require collaboration with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, in charge of administering aviation law. The two bodies are expected to hold discussions on the matter.
Amazon.com hopes to pioneer the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles in Japan. The U.S. online shopping giant is looking at using the devices to deliver packages in the Tokyo-area city of Chiba, one of Japan's special strategic deregulation zones. The Sony group plans to offer a drone-based service checking for fraud in housing construction, starting in 2016.
Local and prefectural governments are also experimenting with the technology. Ibaraki Prefecture will start using drones to monitor for the illegal disposal of industrial waste. As the devices come into broader use, crafting measures to ensure safety in addition to usability grows ever more pressing.