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Drone fever: Switzerland takes off

Switzerland has drone fever. These smart aircrafts are becoming increasingly important in economic terms around the world. Drones are already being used in various areas in Switzerland, for instance. Find out why innovation in the Technology Supertrend is taking off.

First Drone Innovators Day in Switzerland

The first Swiss Drone Innovators Day was held in Zurich this past June. The conference was organized by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ). ETHZ President Lino Guzzella explained that the over 50 companies in Switzerland specialized in drones could theoretically create more than 150,000 new jobs by 2050.

Chris Anderson, the former editor in chief of technology magazine WIRED, referred to Switzerland as the "Silicon Valley of robotics and drone technology." Alongside Japan and Israel, Switzerland plays an important role in the Technology Supertrend and the rapidly growing market. Worldwide sales could grow to the equivalent of over CHF 100 billion over the next three years, according to sector research.

Drones are used in various sectors in Switzerland

Aside from their commercial applications for infrastructure, agriculture, and sports, there are many other areas in which drones are being used. For example, Swiss development aid recently set the standards for developing high-precision drone-assisted mapping with support from the World Bank. This tool is being used to purposefully promote sustainable urban development in Tanzania, for instance. Drones made by Swiss manufacturer SenseFly, known as eBees, are being exclusively used for this, the largest air surveying project in the world using consumer drones.

the-largest-markets-for-commercial-drone-use

The largest markets for commercial drone use

Value of drone-operated solutions for industries in 2015 (in USD billions)

Source: PWC, WEF

The disruptive impact of drones

Drones could have as disruptive an impact as the introduction of GPS 20 years ago. There are three reasons for this:

First, drones provide everyone with access to airspace – and the costs for this are dropping. This presents new value creation opportunities that were previously unavailable. For instance, it allows larger crop yields to be achieved using fewer pesticides in large-scale farming. New opportunities could also emerge in material handling on building sites and in parcel logistics. Advances in battery development, in the miniaturization of sensors, and in processing power are expanding the range of applications for drones in terms of space and time.

Second, autonomous drones will likely be used in local transport in urban centers in the future. This is already being successfully tested in Dubai, and could be used initially in mega cities with high traffic volumes such as São Paulo.

Drones in Switzerland from a business perspective

Third, it is not just civilian use of drones that is growing. Last year, the US Pentagon acquired more than 50 different types of drones for reconnaissance and tactical applications worth over USD 3 million. And that is just the start. The use of unmanned aircraft for military purposes is certain to play a role in the discussion of modernizing the Swiss Air Force. This raises ethical questions, if nothing else. There are calls for clear rules on the use of drones in Switzerland, and rightly so. The main focus in the civilian sector is on airspace safety and meaningful applications in the service of humans.

For Switzerland as a center for business, drone development is much more than just a scientific flagship project. It is about actively shaping key technologies and markets of the 21st century. Drones, robotics, and sustainable development are different aspects of a multifaceted new world. Many doors are open to investors concerning these and related themes.