On a sunny Sunday this spring, parents and children gathered at the Rakuten Super English Junior school in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, for a special drone program offered in collaboration with Rakuten AirMap.

The event welcomed students from grades three to six to learn about drone safety and flying rules, before trying their hand at some simple coding to get the drones airborne.

Coming into contact with drones for the first time, the kids were enamored by the machines, pumping their fists with each successfully coded flight. By the end of the day, many kids had decided what their next birthday present needed to be.

As drones hit the mainstream, some issues remain unsolved

Recently, drones have been the subject of much attention for their ability to make deliveries to people living in isolated areas, or provide aid in times of disaster. Relatively affordable drones have also flooded the market, allowing amateur enthusiasts to own small drones for things like aerial photography.

But as drones gradually become a part of everyday life, the need for a regulated drone environment has become more apparent than ever. Since 2005, the Japanese government has had rules in place restricting the flight of drones weighing over 200 grams – because of the potential danger posed by drones falling into areas around airports or populated areas and causing injuries, heavier drones are generally prohibited from flying.

In order to operate such drones in Japanese airspace, permission from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is required, with exceptions including certain night flights and events.

For some, this can take much of the spontaneity out of drone flying. It also doesn’t solve the problem of airspace managers not having a way to communicate airspace rules to drone operators.

Rakuten AirMap provides a unique service to improve environment for drone flights

The event was held at the Rakuten Super English Jiyugaoka School in Tokyo. Organizers utilized the unique set of resources at Rakuten’s disposal to provide kids with a unique educational experience.

The drone event was held at the Rakuten Super English Jiyugaoka School in Tokyo. Organizers utilized the unique set of resources at Rakuten’s disposal to provide kids with a unique educational experience.

In 2017, Rakuten AirMap— a joint venture between Rakuten and LA-based startup AirMap—was established to improve the environment for drone flights in Japan. For airspace managers, Rakuten AirMap provides an “Airspace Management Dashboard,” while those operating drones can use the dedicated “AirMap” app.

Using the “Airspace Management Dashboard,” airspace managers can make airspace rules and boundaries public, while also receiving and approving flight requests from drone operators.

Meanwhile, drone operators using the “AirMap” app can check the airspace rules for the areas in which they want to fly, create flight plans and make flight applications all from the same portal. The app also provides climate information crucial to safe flying, such as air temperature, wind direction and strength.

Paving the way for a future with drones through education

Rakuten AirMap is looking to support the proliferation of drones in everyday life, not just through innovative airspace management platforms, but also by spreading understanding about drones and the rules that govern them.

The Jiyugaoka kids drone programming session is just the first step towards this vision. There are strong hopes that drones will bring significant benefits to diverse facets of society, and Rakuten AirMap is working to facilitate a smooth landing for that future with community interaction like the Jiyugaoka program.