Israeli drones are known for striking military targets and defending the Jewish state from its enemies. Last week at the United Nations, Israeli diplomats sought to show a different side to the country’s drones—their positive impact on environmental sustainability.
Billed as “Flying to the Future,” the May 3 event—part of the U.N. Science, Technology and Innovation Forum—drew ambassadors from around the world as well as senior private sector executives. Israel’s U.N. mission and the country’s National Drone Initiative also participated.
Israeli drone companies and industry officials presented the “sky of tomorrow,” which they said will be networked for drones, and discussed the global challenges which drone usage can overcome. They also said that drones can reduce emissions by replacing the need for so many delivery trucks.
“The potential of this emerging vertical goes even beyond the mitigation of climate change and other long-term goals. This technology is being used to save lives today,” Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan told attendees.
“When disaster strikes and access to critical aid is a matter of life or death, life-saving supplies can be mere minutes away,” he added. “With drone tech, remote communities hundreds of miles away from advanced medical centers can be swiftly resupplied with crucial antibiotics, blood vaccines or even advanced medical devices.”
Advanced drone technology, which Israel is designing and producing, can also help the United Nations meet one of its primary goals—advancing sustainability, according to Erdan. Drones can reduce roadway congestion, emission and noise pollution, he said.
Government officials presented statistics on the explosive growth of Israeli drone technology and screened video clips of drones, both present-day and futuristic—from delivering ice-cream to Israelis on the beach and refrigerated medicine to hospitals to surveying construction sites.
‘A lead technological hub’
Daniella Partem of the Israel Innovation Authority heads the Israeli Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) as part of a collaboration with the World Economic Forum. She told JNS that it’s important to think of drone technology as reality, not something out of a science-fiction movie. (The fourth industrial revolution refers to the rapid 21st-century advancement of technology, including automation and artificial intelligence, and its effects on industry.)
“We can see that there’s a lot of growing interest in this. And we have many delegations coming from all over the world to see how we’re creating this new ecosystem. Israel is really becoming a lead technological hub for drone technology,” Partem told JNS.
“Our companies, because of all the experience they’ve been gaining in our sandbox, are becoming leading players all over the world,” she added.
Partem said Israeli drone technology is already being employed in Brazil, the Netherlands, Japan, Singapore and elsewhere. The Israeli program lifted off more than two years ago, with more than 18,000 launches (“sorties”) under its belt. That includes test flights up to nearly 15 miles and demonstrations around the country.
The Israeli government is funding research and development for 16 companies, with many more using the so-called sandbox of infrastructure built through the initiative.
Oren Calfon, vice president of Ayalon Highways’ technology and innovation division, told JNS that the Israeli drone program, coordinated by the Ministry of Transportation, Innovation Authority and Civil Aviation Authority, is “the perfect platform where we discuss, brainstorm, synchronize and adapt to each other about what could be implemented where, and I think this is the best stage for collaboration.”
Calfon expects the advanced nature of Israel’s emerging markets, which use drones and other alternative air transport means, to encourage international interest. But drone technology is still the “Wild West” in some ways, with regulators struggling to keep up with the rapid advancements, he said.
This week, Calfon and Israeli officials are meeting in New York with representatives of the Federal Aviation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to discuss safety challenges inherent in drones taking over the skies.
“Regulation is the key barrier to further expand this activity. We’re talking about the communication frequencies, the level of the weight that you can carry and a wide range of factors that we need to take into account when we define the regulations,” he told JNS. “This is the main challenge for us that we need to address, and this should be done yesterday not tomorrow.”
In the meantime, Partem said it is critical to keep flying.
“It’s something that’s hard to believe until you see it with your own eyes. We’re working on flying more and more, having more and more demonstrations, more and more companies, local and international, come fly with us and see the potential of this whole new ecosystem, and see how we can take it every day to the next phase,” she said.
“This is not in the far-off future. It’s already here.”