Human nature is fascinating. We continuously extend our capabilities through outstanding discoveries or technological innovations, and sight is a clear example of this. Mankind always aims to see beyond its reach; from the telescope to advanced camera lenses, we have always sought to explore corners of the world that the naked eye can’t reach. Following the breakout invention of drones, opportunities to expand our horizons increased dramatically by combing cutting-edge technology in optics with unmanned aerial vehicles. Through this partnership, mankind forged a very powerful tool that is now available to be purchased off the shelf.
Unmanned aircraft have unlocked an endless world of possibilities, becoming yet another extension of the human eye. Social networks are flooded with amazing content from drone enthusiasts and professionals sharing the beauty of remote corners of Earth. For example, Ponfedrone, located in North-Western Spain, has presented outstanding pictures of the region, including a fantastic aerial shot of the local football stadium, “El Toralín”. This led me to wonder about the potential of drones for large gatherings at sports events. In a short interview with the content creator of this account, it was pointed out that the local authorities of Ponferrada have never reached out to advise against continuing the work posted on their social networks. Furthermore, there is no regulation prohibiting drone activity in the region, which, from a regulatory point of view, represents uncharted waters… or should we say skies?
Drones trying to steal the show at sports events have already featured in some headlines. These interactions vary greatly. Some have been reported as a harmless modern version of children climbing a tree to watch a game without paying. However, most of the stories have been unwelcome disruptions. There have been recorded cases of drones live streaming games to give illegal betting advantages to gamblers, as well as games having to be halted for security reasons. Two recent examples occurred in Bilbao, Spain and Rotherham, UK in 2020. Luckily, no one was harmed as a result of these intromissions. However, they opened a debate regarding whether regulations must be in place to protect larger crowds at football games in the near future – meaning, of course, the men’s FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. With the biggest sporting event in the world set to take place in the Middle East for the first time, the host Nation has promised to deliver a technological display never seen before to overcome issues like the extreme heat in stadiums. But could this technological growth also be used to protect fans attending the games? The eyes of the world will be on this event not just as the perfect showcase for talented footballers but also for tech firms eager to show what they are capable of.
The superpowers of the Middle East have already displayed their economic power. Three clear examples are the so-called “State Clubs” owned by wealthy leaders: Manchester City (Abu Dhabi), Paris Saint Germain (Qatar) and, most recently, Newcastle United (Saudi Arabia). These clubs are the flagships of the massive investment from the Middle East, designed to catch the eye of the world. However, the Qatari authorities have also made the most interesting investment, sparking the interest of the technology industry: as the first step towards safe airspace for FIFA’s big party, Qatar’s interior government has signed an agreement with Fortem Technologies to guarantee the security of venues, fans and teams by using patrol drones to combat illegal unmanned aircraft during the event. One could think of this scenario as the perfect illustration of fighting fire with fire. Nevertheless, the complexity of Fortem’s solution demands detailed analysis as their interceptor UAVs are equipped with cutting-edge radars to detect and identify threats, as well as nets to catch and disable intruding aircraft.
When it comes to drone technology and countermeasures, a wide variety of military-grade products are not available to civilians due to the potential threats posed. However, firms like Echodyne and Aaronia have started to commercialise detection and mitigation systems that are certified by civil aviation authorities, making them only a click away. Unfortunately, most of these are still in a legal void in terms of regulation. Many countries have started to make their regulations more flexible regarding civil versions of counter-drone solutions. This represents an important step taken by brave companies that have been fully advised and supported by the work we carry out at Access Partnership. We believe in the smooth integration of emerging markets as the gateway to innovation, sustainability and progress. This winter in Qatar, a new milestone will be set, and you have the best seat to witness the start of an exciting competition.