Co Mayo has set its sights on becoming a centre of commercial drone development for companies such as Amazon and Google intent on using the machines for deliveries in the future.
A consultation document, which had been commissioned to explore the possibility, noted a “short window” to market the county as a leading test base, with many companies aiming to begin drone use from next year.
"Global technology companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook have taken a clear interest in drone technology," says the Drones Over Mayo report. "These companies are interested in drones to facilitate mass communications in regions that remain 'offline' and deliver e-commerce purchases to customers via drone. Attracting high-tech companies to Co Mayo is key to creating the jobs of the future."
The report was commissioned by Mayo County Council’s enterprise and investment unit and completed in January, but it has not been formally launched. A copy was obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.
The document notes that test sites are more suited to delivery drones, which are likely to become an increasing reality.
The council cites a number of factors it believes will make Co Mayo a drone-attractive base, including its open geography, mild climate, Ireland’s “proven track record in hosting multinational tech companies” and tax incentives.
The regulatory environment in Ireland is also attractive, the report notes, "defined by the Irish Aviation Authority's commitment to safety but willingness to engage constructively with industry".
Amazon has been to the fore of drone development and last year achieved a significant victory when the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Authority, granted permission to test its new Prime Air delivery drone under 400ft and at a maximum speed of 100mph.
However, concerns have been raised that the company’s ultimate objective of door-to-door delivery could be hampered by US restrictions on flying machines which go out of their operator’s line of sight.
Ireland, and Mayo, could step in to fill this regulatory gap even though the IAA imposes a strict safety policy. For now, the report focuses on a more general potential to facilitate the inevitable development.
“Traditional tech companies have big goals and short deadlines,” it notes.
"In the future – just like in Mayo – people throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas will be able to go online and make e-commerce purchases. Within minutes a nimble, ultra-light weight, automated and exacting multi-rotor copter will buzz into view just above nearby structure and tree lines. A drone will make prompt delivery of the e-commerce order and the only interest generated will be related to its contents."
Today, the report notes, the endeavours of leading internet companies will "outpace amateurs and governments alike". Google is committed to making drone deliveries by 2017. The council says that while opportunities are "impressive", time is short with test centres appearing in other countries including the US, Australia, Wales and Rwanda.
Much of the report’s content was gleaned from delegates at the recent Drones Data X Conference, held in the county every November.
“Most interviewees saw huge potential in Mayo,” it said of those in attendance, with climate, uncluttered airspace and “willingness from government to work constructively with foreign companies to create employment”.
Among the weaknesses identified were the remoteness of the county, high winds and its removal from the type of venture capitalist operations often required to support such projects. However it found that “the vast majority of senior leaders at the Drones Data X Conference 2015 viewed a drone test site project as achievable.”
Mayo County Council did not respond to requests for comment.