Drones in the sky, drones in the sea, drones on land. Could drones be doing more for you? At Art of Possible: Game of Drones we brought together an audience of creatives, technological innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs to find out…

Art of Possible: Game of Drones was held on Thursday, October 24 to showcase the incredible diversity of uses for these little unmanned aircraft.

Our five expert panellists have adopted drone technologies across a range of disciplines – from filmmaking and architectural design to conservation and the maritime industry.

1. Sarah Middlemiss, Space Programme Manager, Ecometrica

Ecometrica is a downstream space company that uses data from the ground, air and satellites to monitor environmental change and impact.

The company’s use of drones, combined with satellite data in the context of Ecometrica’s Scottish Earth Observation Service, unlocks a wealth of information.

Sarah described to the Art of Possible audience how Ecometrica uses drones and LiDAR technology to penetrate the tree canopy to build a 3D model of what’s underneath – data that would be impossible to gather through satellites alone.

In Scotland, this technology is put to good work for the Forestry Commission, monitoring the spread of invasive rhododendrons.

It’s also an exportable problem. In Ghana, cocoa is a shade-loving plant that likes to grow under the cover of large trees.

Ecometrica is now working with the local government and chocolate industry to keep tabs on crop growth, using the same technology.

2. Dale Colley, Founder, Altitude Thinking

Dale was accompanied to the Art of Possible by the AquaBot, his autonomous, surface water-borne drone.

Dale is currently a third-year engineering student, who founded his company Altitude Thinking just last year.

Driven by a desire to protect the environment, his original plan was to create an inflatable robot with ‘arms’ that used centrifugal forces to collect marine litter. But the idea would have required an unrealistically large amount of capital, and that’s when the AquaBot was born instead.

Essentially a remote-control boat with integrated sensors, Dale uses the AquaBot to collect water quality data and has completed a successful project on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Traditionally pollution monitoring has involved samples being sent away to a laboratory to be analysed. When the results arrive in a few days, the pollution has likely already done the damage and moved on.

However, the AquaBot can deliver real-time results to Dale in the form of text messages, allowing for quick and effective decision-making.

The AquaBot also generates its own good PR.

“Because it’s portable I’m always walking about with it. It has lots of things sticking out the bottom of it and people have no idea what it is,” he said. “It’s quite good public relations because it’s raising awareness at the same time.”

3. Carrick McLelland, Founder, Ground Level Up

Ground Level Up is a visual content company that specialises in producing high-end, cinematic video for online audiences.

The use of drones is highly cost and time-effective, and has given Carrick’s business its competitive edge.

The shots he can capture with a drone could previously only be achieved by helicopter, plane or cable.

As an example, Carrick shared an image of himself launching a drone from a small boat in the middle of Loch Tay.

“You can’t rig a cable over a loch or take off in a helicopter in the middle of a loch, but with a drone it takes minutes or seconds,” he said.

Drone technology is evolving rapidly. When Carrick started Ground Level Up in 2014, the drones he used had about seven minutes of battery life and produced video quality that was acceptable for online use.

Now, just five years later, his latest drones can run for 30 minutes and the quality is high enough for a cinema screen.

The next step for the business is to expand into first person view drones, where the pilot wears goggles to get a real-time view of what the drone is capturing on camera.

However, the current rules in Scotland stipulate the drone must be in the pilot’s line of sight – so having a pair of goggles on is a no-no, even if these particular goggles give you a superior view and more control over the drone.

4. Kristopher Fisher, Chief Development Officer, Dronely, and Music Technology Lecturer, University of the West of Scotland

From capturing breath-taking imagery for broadcast to deploying drones to cope with the toughest industrial challenges; Kristopher’s relationship with drones has evolved as quickly as the technology itself.

For his company Dronely, using a drone means you can take the human out of any situation where there is a risk.

Kristopher shared an example of his work where a very large crane was lifting a very large damaged bridge, which he monitored with a drone.

“The worst case scenario is that the bridge falls and the drone is crushed. Oh well, we have insurance and can buy another drone,” he said. “But if you’ve got a person under there, it’s goodnight.”

But problems arose as the technology became more accessible.

“Suddenly the market was saturated and everyone was buying drones,” Kristopher said. “12-year-old children were getting drones for Christmas.”

The influx of new drone users, who were not always the best at following regulations, led to Kristopher taking his drone business away from land.

Dronely entered the maritime sector and now works with the world’s largest shipping and tanker fleets, using drones for inspections, emissions monitoring, replenishment-at-sea and thermal visualisation.

Whether at land or at sea, the principle remains the same – Dronely is working to take the human out of the dangerous situation, and put them in control of a drone instead.

5. Ruth Oliver, Business Engagement Executive, Interface

Ruth’s job is to match make between the worlds of business and academia, allowing companies to access the right expertise to help them grow.

She shared Interface success stories, including Dale’s Altitude Thinking, and another Scottish drone company called Cyberhawk, which uses the technology to work with leading companies in the oil and gas and energy industries, carrying out remote visual inspections of their assets.

Interface introduced Cyberhawk to the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, in Edinburgh, to carry out a feasibility study to develop a smart imaging system to improve image quality and revolutionise the way inspections are carried out.

Summing up her Art of Possible experience, Ruth reflected on the benefit of bringing creative and tech-minded people together.

“It’s nice to be reminded of the creative things you can do with drones, as I’m usually doing ‘put a sensor on it’ type things,” she said.

After an inspiring showcase of Scottish innovators who are leading the way in the drone world, it was time for the Art of Possible attendees to tackle the big questions in the workshop.

First, the audience explored how businesses can broaden the market opportunity for drones, coming up with ideas such as emergency support, traffic and major events, archaeology, landmine detection and monitoring of cladding, brownfield sites and conservation areas.

The attendees then discussed what support programmes exist in Scotland and beyond to help people with these ideas make them a reality.

Much of the discussion centred on how many funding opportunities require applicants to pitch their ideas Dragon’s Den-style. But if public speaking isn’t your forte, you might miss out on funding you otherwise deserve.

Lastly, the groups shared approaches that accelerate successful cultures of creativity and innovation in their own sectors.

Advice included embracing people lower down the chain, making time for innovation, having a passion for your work and the all-important “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

The Art of Possible attendees were also treated to an exhibition of entries into the University of Strathclyde’s annual Images of Research competition, which showcases research conducted at Strathclyde to an audience of thousands of people visiting art galleries, museums and public spaces.

Game of Drones was the final Art of Possible event for 2019 – we’ll be back in 2020 to continue bringing together Scotland’s creatives, policy-makers and STEM professionals to consider challenge-based applications for world-leading emerging and enabling technologies.

In the words of Kristopher Fisher: “It’s an exciting time for us and it’s an exciting time for drones in general.”

Intrigued? Join us at the CAN DO Innovation Summit on November 20 at Glasgow Science Centre to hear more about what makes Scotland a world-leading hub of innovation. SMEs will learn how collaborative innovation can help to spark new ideas to drive productivity and tackle challenges through creative solutions.

Meet the innovators, entrepreneurs, academics and investors that can help you adopt new technologies, futureproof your workforce and access the right support to maximise your potential. Register for free here.

Want to keep the drone conversation going?

Join us online on iKEN (the Ideas & Knowledge Exchange Network) at 2pm BST, November 13 for a live chat with drone experts and entrepreneurs from across Europe.

There’s no need to register for the event in advance, simply sign up as an iKEN member and access Slack on the day.

The award-winning Art of Possible programme is delivered by Glasgow City of Science & Innovation, Technology Scotland, Cultural Enterprise Office and Glasgow City Council, in partnership with VentureFest Scotland.