In 2015, a man flying a commercially available quadcopter deposited a small amount of radioactive material on the roof of the Prime Minister’s residence as an act of protest, prompting a swift and serious limitation of drones in Japan’s cities. Drones are strictly prohibited from flying in urban areas without a permit: receiving a permit is a paperwork intensive process which involves stating the purpose and dates planned flights. (Japan also, interesting, explicity prohibits “drink droning.”)
In the last four years, however, Japan has also made efforts to keep Japan at the forefront of the commercial drone industry, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a “part of the fourth industrial revolution.” This has meant designating test cities for research, moving forward on drone delivery scenarios for the 2020 Olympics, and an array of other regulations designed to make it easier for drone companies to innovate and thrive in the international arena. (Japan’s Terra Drone is a case in point – expanding rapidly across the globe.) Japanese companies have moved ahead in industrial applications like mining and oil and gas: drone delivery programs have been tested and implemented in Japan’s rural areas and taken overseas.
However, with 45% Japan’s population concentrated in the urban areas of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, strict limitations on drones in urban areas limits the impact that the industry can have for most of Japan’s citizens. Now, the government plans to implement an online drone registry program by 2022 which will regularize drone operations in urban areas. The new system will process applications online and issue a permit for an extended period of time, rather than per mission.
“The Japanese business community is clamoring for a similar arrangement. Supermarket chain Seiyu has partnered e-commerce heavyweight Rakuten to launch an experimental drone delivery service in July that sends packages to remote islands. Japan Post Holdings aims to use drones to efficiently convey parcels to mountainous and sparsely populated areas,” says the Nikkei Asia Review.
The government will also move forward on establishing a framework of safety standards that will allow operators to receive permission more easily for commercial operations.
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