The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has announced a live trial of drone technology to be used for disaster management, utilising Telstra's 4G network and a combination of three drone operators and four software platforms for the tests.
The combination of drone operators and software platforms will allow the drones to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS); however, current legislation still requires drones to be flown within line of site.
Extending the reach of drones will allow their use by local councils and governments during natural disasters, according to the LGAQ, with the association hoping for regulations to be changed if the trials prove to be successful and safe.
"We're only just starting to see a fraction of the potential of drone use by councils, particularly when it comes to community and worker safety in disaster management situations," said Clinton Parker, director of business solutions for LGAQ subsidiary Local Government Infrastructure Services.
"This trial will give us a greater understanding of operations with the different software, how we can take advantage of Telstra's LTE network and inform how we may be able to work with all parties, including regulators, to make BVLOS a safe option."
The trial will take place in the Royal Australian Air Force's Amberley Base airspace, with the second stage of the trial aiming to equip emergency management operations with drones ready for BVLOS during disasters, the LGAQ said.
The drones would be used for surveying disaster zones in real time, undertaking terrain and bridge surveys post-disaster, and dropping medical supplies to citizens stuck in a disaster zone, for instance.
Referring to previous trials of drone technology, Parker added that "the full potential of drones is not in dropping books or pizzas to households, but in helping protect human life and property during a disaster".
The Queensland government had in July announced that it would be investing AU$1 million in drone technology to be used in the search and rescue, environmental management, agriculture, mining, energy, and telecommunications industries with the hopes of creating 500 new jobs and making these areas more efficient.
"The project aims to capitalise on the capabilities inherent in drones to carry out remote-monitoring and inspection of key infrastructure and data analysis to allow for better decision making," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said last year.
The state government also partnered with Boeing, Telstra, and Shell to further drone research at the time.
Queensland MP Scott Stewart in November said he also wanted to extend the use of drones for fighting crime by Queensland Police Force.
Drones could be launched from police vehicles within seconds, and at a far lower cost than helicopters.
Also exploring the use of drones for natural disasters is the Austrian Red Cross, which said in March it would start launching the devices from Land Rover vehicles in the cases of avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, and floods.
The Austrian Red Cross' new system, called Project Hero, will allow first responders to drive the Land Rovers close to the disaster zone and launch a drone via a tablet app to get a live aerial snapshot in order to assess the scene and form an action plan.
Drones will be able to land back on a vehicle's roof even while the vehicle is moving by using magnetic retention and self-centering technology, the Austrian Red Cross said.
Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) had designed the roof-mounted drone system as part of a 64-year partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The drone makes use of multiple frequency radio equipment in order to send data back to the vehicles even while there is no mobile coverage, and is equipped with clips to mount rescue equipment.
AT&T in February also tested the use of drones to provide additional 4G coverage during natural disasters via flying cells.
Each drone should be able to provide 4G coverage to an area of 40 square miles, according to AT&T.
Likewise, UK company Windhorse Aerospace has been developing lightweight and edible food drones to bring supplies to hard-to-reach areas in times of disaster.