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Drones on Display

Mikiko Suzuki

Drones are making headlines for causing security scares at public buildings and famous landmarks. As authorities develop new laws to govern their use, Japan hosted its first international drone exhibition.

People came to check out the latest models from 50 Japanese and international manufacturers. Some attracted attention with their light weight, including a French-made device that weighs in at just 420 grams and is equipped with a high-resolution camera.

A Japanese security company unveiled a model that can monitor suspicious activity in offices or factories. It can even be programmed to follow intruders and send images to security officers.

Another Japanese company developed a model that detects cracks and defects in infrastructure such as bridges and roads. "Drones are the next step in robotics," says Tsuyoshi Itoh from the company that developed it. "They will help us with some of the work now done by humans."

But recent incidents in Japan have raised the alarm. A drone carrying radioactive sand was found on the roof of the Prime Minister's office last month. Police later arrested a 40-year old man in connection with the incident.

Another scare came when a drone fell out of the sky during a ceremony at a temple in Nagano. Temple officials promptly banned drones from the area. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has prohibited their use in city-operated parks and gardens. Japanese lawmakers have proposed legislation to set no-fly zones around key facilities and to require people to register when they purchase a drone.

Participants at the expo say they are aware of the risks and concerns. They say regulation is necessary and they ask users to stick to the rules. "We've asked our customers to get flight permission for specific locations beforehand," says Daisuke Ide of IDeomotor Robotics. "Risk management has to be in place because drones might fall." Tadashi Yoshida, Vice President of the Japan Management Association says "it's true that drones have caused some bother. It's time for officials from the government, industry and academia work together to find ways to prevent accidents."

Drones can travel to places where humans cannot, so they have much to offer. But experts say their downside needs further discussion in both the public and private sectors.

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