New domestic drone meant to boost Japan’s data protection

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Soten drone

A new drone jointly developed by the government and the private sector has been released, as part of efforts to strengthen Japan’s data protection.

With China currently dominating the drone market, Japan is working to produce domestic models, as drones often handle such highly secret information as land surveys and the damage from a natural disaster.

Released in December, the Soten drone measures 64 centimeters across and weighs 1.7 kilograms. It was developed by Tokyo-based startup ACSL Ltd., NTT Docomo Inc. and Yamaha Motor Co., as well as the government and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

Soten can fly for about 30 minutes and has a camera designed for maneuvering, separate from that for photographing. It can fly even in strong winds of 54 kph.

The Soten drone immediately encrypts the data it collects and its flight routes, and the data is stored on domestic servers, features that are expected to prevent third parties from stealing data or hijacking the drone.

It will be used for such purposes as surveying remote islands in waters around Japan and conducting search operations in the event of a disaster.

Chinese companies account for about 80% of the global market share for small drones like Soten.

Information such as communications data, images and flight routes is often stored on Chinese servers via special apps, raising concerns over information leaks.

Anticipating a halt or slowdown in the procurement of parts amid a pandemic or other disaster, Soten was made mostly from parts manufactured in Japan.

Drones are used in a wide range of fields, including land surveys and the inspection of bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

The revised Civil Aeronautics Law will be enacted to allow drones that cannot be directly seen by the operator to fly on autopilot in urban areas and elsewhere by the end of 2022.

The domestic drone market is expected to grow from about ¥180 billion in fiscal 2020 to about ¥640 billion in fiscal 2025.