High Hopes for Drones in the Arctic

CEO of Arctic UAV Kirt Ejesiak and a UAV Technician with one of their UAVs. (Photo: Eli Turk/ Arctic UAV Inc.)
Are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) the way of the future in the North? Many people, and companies such as Northern Canadian based Arctic UAV, certainly believe so.

- Many Inuit youth are used to the harsh Arctic conditions, and we believe by combining this experience with specific UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) training, we can offer world-class UAV services. All too often we import specialized labour from elsewhere, we believe in training local people and provide a long lasting career path. Better for us and better for our local economy, says Mr. Ejesiak CEO and President of Arctic UAV.


Are UAV's the way of the future in the North?  Many people, and companies such as Northern Canadian based Arctic UAV, certainly believe so.  In a presentation at the Northern Lights Conference and Trade Show in Ottawa late January, this start-up company brought forth their ideas about how they can help shape some of the crucial decisions being made in the north using UAVs (which are more commonly known as drones).  The belief is that UAVs will be aiding in everything from Search and Rescue missions to Wildlife Surveys to Sovereignty Patrols.  Unmanned Aerial Vehicles seem to be the way of the future.  A future, which Arctic UAV estimate will become the norm in only a couple years, and could be a positive influence for many northern youth. Which is not inconceivable, considering that the Russians are already using this technology in their Arctic for reconnaissance.  Furthermore, the Americans have been attempting and with limited success been flying drones in the Arctic since 2014.  The potential boom of this technology in the northern climate has not yet happened, so is it about to?


Problems Surrounding the Use of UAVs

One cannot negate the fact that there are still a plethora of questions surrounding the uses of drones in northern temperatures, in blizzards, and in an environment where long distance is one of the key proponents of life.  Can this machinery withstand the intense cold, the harsh winds, and manage to maintain power over long hours of flight? This is not even where the concerns end; there are further concerns about the environmental impact these aerial devices would have on wildlife, due to noise or disturbances, as well as the practical question of how to retrieve a UAV that has broken or has died.  Not to mention the policy implications of ensuring that flying UAVs across international borders would be legal in cases such as search and rescue or wildlife patrol.


Drones in Cold Climates

Yet, some of these problems can be assuaged as there are already drones being used in the Arctic, in a limited capacity, as mentioned above.  But the other side of the world is also attempting to use them, and there are some stunning pictures to show the uses of drones in Antarctica.  In a more prevalent case, the Polar Star a U.S. Coast Guard in Antarctica debut the RQ-20A Pumas, a type of UAV, to survey the surrounding ice, allowing it to help map out the safest route of the ship to take.  This is and was traditionally done using helicopters, but they can be grounded due to bad weather which leaves the crew with a much more difficult task of finding a route.  But as the tests in Antarctic showed, using drones is not without its own problems; the major ones being the difficulties overcoming the elements and specifically dealing with the high winds that can occur in the northern- and southern-most points of our globe.  


Potential for Growth In Arctic

One of the many interesting points that Arctic UAV made at the Northern Lights Conference was that as a northern-based company, specifically one based in Iqaluit, their company has the potential for bringing jobs to locals.  Using UAVs in the north can be, as Kirt Ejesiak the Chairman and CEO of Arctic UAVs, said a “made in the arctic solution,” which is not only a solution by northerners for northerners, but also an opportunity for employment.  Mr. Ejesiak said that this technology gives them an opportunity to “train our young people to work in this field, [this technology] is something that the young people are doing already, they are into technology, they want to do cool things.”  Ensuring that drones are not only used in the north, but based in the north, allows young people in the Arctic to have a wider range of employment opportunities.  Furthermore it allows northerners are being trained in skills that can give them a large range of opportunity in the future.

Mr. Ejesiak is assured that this type of training will not only help northerners in the north, but give them opportunities around the world,“I envision these young UAV experts to offer their experiences to other Indigenous peoples around the world in the not too distant future.”  


Drones in the Canadian Arctic

The Arctic has really opened up for the potential of using drones, Transport Canada, for example is considering the use of UAV specifically in regards to safety.  Without the use of pilots, there would be less restricted air flight times and flying in dangerous environments would be less of a risk.

Ian Glenn - CEO of ING Robotics Aviation - also focused on the limits that could be pushed using drones. As Mr. Glenn said during the presentation at Northern Lights, “The nice thing about unmanned aviation is that no one dies to get the job done. You have the opportunity to do things that push the limits to get the job done.” This is due to the fact that if a miscalculation occurs or if a UAV is out in tricky or dangerous weather and something were to go wrong, there is no loss of human life. There have been tests of drones in the Canadian Arctic to see how well they could monitor sea ice and although it was as Mr. Glenn said, “a tough, tough mission,” it has indeed been considered a success.  

Furthermore, Canada is going to be spending $133 million dollars on surveillance in the Arctic in the next five years.  Does this mean more money being spent on drones?  An educated guess would lead to yes.  There has also been examples of using drones to study animals in the remote regions of Canada, including the study of polar bears and geese.  This study concluded that it was possible to use UAVs to monitor and photograph wildlife in a way that was not intrusive or detrimental to the animals.  There has also been studies of Beluga whales and calves being filmed to truly understand and to gain a new perspective on the habits of these creatures.  Both studies show the true ecological and not solely military implications that drones can have for our understanding of the north.  


Drones in the American Arctic

The United States is also looking towards expanding the use of drones in their Arctic region. Julie Gourley, a U.S. State Department official, commented  on the benefits of being able to use UAVs in bad weather and she also mentioned the high cost of infrastructure that comes with operating manned aircrafts in the North, which can largely be mitigated when using drones. But once again, she mentions that there are definitely issues that need to be resolved before drones become commonplace technology in the north.  The focus being on the importance that communication between nations will play in the role of UAVs, specifically the fact that these UAVs will cross international borders and this will involve comprehensive international agreements and standards.  And although relations in the Arctic have often been friendly and have resulted in several multilateral agreements, these do not come without extensive discussions and negotiations.  Furthermore, the importance of keeping drones separate from civil aviation is another important conversation that must be had, both at the national and international level.  


Dones Are the Way of the Future?

New technologies, such as UAVs, come not only with opportunity and excitement, but also with potential struggles and important discussions that must be had.  Policy must be put in place, both at a national and international level before drones become a norm in the north. Arctic  UAV, for example, recognizes the different rules and regulations that each country has put in place, and that expanding the international implications of drones will require research and respect to these rules.  However, the Arctic Council, through the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, has already put forward an Arctic Science Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Operator’s Handbook, which allows companies such as Arctic UAV to put guidelines into place for potentially working internationally in the future.  If countries are willing to have honest and open discussions, as well as fund companies who are looking into improving UAV technology specifically geared to northern climates, there is huge potential for what can be accomplished.  The opening up of search and rescue patrols during times of bad weather, the monitoring of animals and their patterns of migration, and the monitoring of vast and dangerous territory for potential threats are but a few things that can easily been imagined.  Therefore, it is not hard to see why so many people are enthused by the idea of using these devices in the Arctic, but as mentioned there are important conversations and research that needs to be done before this potential can truly be unlocked.  

As Mr. Ejesiak said, “We believe there will be great successes (and great failures) when trying to provide real world solutions to our common problems using UAVs, that is really the only way we'll advance and make our world a better place.”



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