After years of circling, the technology and regulatory stars are aligning for wide-scale drone use to take off in 2023 – with more than just pizza deliveries on the horizon.

Australian listed connectivity company, Elsight’s (ASX:ELS), is confident this is the year we’ll start to see regulation catch up with the technology – and drones disrupting crewed aircraft.

“It is not a question of if anymore, but a question of when and how fast, and being a major part of it is a great feeling,” CEO Yoav Amitai says.

“We’ve only started to scratch the surface with the use cases that will be enabled by this infrastructure, including delivering to remote or hard to get locations.

“The commercial drone sector is like the internet in the ‘90s, when we saw it move from national security to facilitating everyday life across the whole of society.”

Beyond Visual Line of Sight is the key

 Elsight’s Halo connectivity platform for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) – where the operator of the drone can’t physically see the device during some or even all of its flight, even across hundreds of kilometres – has won the company a range of contracts with drone delivery companies to date.

The catalyst for more BVLOS approvals came late last year when the Federal Department of Infrastructure gave the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) more discretion on drones.

CASA is now using this discretion to be proactive in streamlining electronic approvals for potentially lifesaving and lifestyle-changing applications.

These range from shark surveillance, bushfire and flood management to remote healthcare deliveries, urban grocery drop-offs and even verifying corporate carbon offset statements.

Air taxis for the Brisbane 2032 Olympics

The company is also starting trials in the futuristic Israel National Drone Initiative, which has the goal of transporting heavy cargo and passengers to reduce road congestion.

Demonstrations will kick off in January 2023, consisting of one week of flights across the country per month for two years, with limited flight tests in areas without human presence before building up to sparsely populated areas and then eventually demonstrating services within urban areas.

Given the company’s strong Australian links and contracts with major drone delivery providers internationally, Elsight says learnings from the trials could potentially be applied to the plans for electric air taxis to be operating in Brisbane by the 2032 Olympics.

Delivering groceries on the fly

In the US commercial drone delivery has become a reality as retail giant Walmart expands its drone delivery operations to 36 hubs across six states with support from DroneUp.

The company has secured contracts with US-based DroneUp and Air Methods’ wholly owned drone subsidiary Spright, and Speedbird in Brazil.

Notably, DroneUp is part of US retail giant Walmart’s expanding drone delivery service to 36 hubs across six states which plans to reach 4 million homes this year, while Spright solves some of the toughest time sensitive challenges facing health services in the US.

Google-owner Alphabet’s Wing unit has already deployed delivery drones to hundreds of thousands of homes in Australia, Finland and Texas, and predicts millions more will be within range of drone deliveries in 2023.

On our side of the pond, Australia Wing operates through its partnership with Coles from Canberra, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast.

Lifesavers at beaches and emergency relief

For the first time, CASA has approved BVLOS surveillance trials over Sydney beaches as part of the New South Wales Government’s more than A$85 million in shark mitigation measures over the next couple of years.

The trials will expand on the use of drones operated within visual line of sight by Surf Life Saving NSW.

In South Australia, a state reeling from devastating floods, drone player Carbonix has partnered with electricity distributor SA Power Networks to conduct BVLOS aerial inspection on remote electricity lines and other assets across its 180,000km2 footprint.

It’s just one example of drones providing a clear alternative to helicopters, with the added advantage that drones can prevent ground crews being sent out into dangerous weather to check on power infrastructure in flood-affected areas.

Plus, they’re also up to 75% cheaper to operate and emit 98% less CO2 than crewed aircraft, – making drone use an easy win in cutting greenhouse emissions.

Drones can also speed up asset inspection of utilities for bushfire preparedness and maintenance work, improving safety for the SA Power Network’s customers, 30% of whom are in remote areas.

Drones can also improve healthcare in regional Australia, with Swoop Aero recently awarded $1.8m in federal funding to expand operations that include transporting medical samples from remote locations to pathology labs.

Counting carbon offsets a bonus

Another use case for drones is as a vital tool in holding large companies to account on carbon emissions, via above ground, granular carbon calculations that satellites cannot do because the analysis must be so granular.

In Australia, with its huge distances, the use of drones instead of crewed aircraft provides an easy solution in terms of cutting emissions and to ensure transparency in corporate ESG statements.

Remote operations at scale the next step

Elsight believes the next disruptive event in the drone sector will come when regulations allow for “one to many” BVLOS operations, which is when a remote operator can control numerous drones at the same time, leading to remote operations at scale.

With more drones sharing the sky, other aircraft safety is a key priority and that’s where Elsight’s Halo comes in.

Spright, which delivers healthcare supplies by drone to some of the most difficult to reach communities in the US uses Halo, which leverages four major cellular networks, as well as satellites, to allow for safe and secure BVLOS drone operations.

That means the delivery and pick up of healthcare goods is becoming a safer and more efficient solution for companies like Spright who use Elsight’s software.

‘Design Win’ partnerships in December quarter

During the December quarter alone, Elsight added 11 new ‘Design Win’ partners – bringing the total number to 78 partners including one of the largest worldwide defence contractors.

‘Design Win’ is the company’s strategy to allow drone manufacturers to base their drone’s connectivity around Elsight’s Halo solution and nine of the new partners have already placed repeat orders during the period.

Elsight says this continued growth as more Halo’s are deployed to new and existing customers shows the unmanned market is really moving into mainstream commercial adaptation – and once regulations catch up to the technology even more growth is on the horizon.

This article was developed in collaboration with Elsight, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.