“Drone Innovators Network”

Bern, 26.06.2018 - Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, Zurich, 26.06.2018

Mr Guzzella,

Representatives of the WEF,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Zurich and the Federal Institute of Technology.

I am pleased to note that so many have accepted the invitation from the World Economic Forum. And I am also especially pleased that Switzerland is able to host this inaugural meeting of the Drone Innovators Network.

It is not by chance that we are the guests of the Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich.

This facility is of special importance for Switzerland. A call was already made for a national university shortly after the establishment in 1848 of the Swiss Confederation as we know it today. The Federal Institute of Technology opened its doors in 1855, and at the same time the development of its sister organisation in Lausanne was well under way.

Right from the start, these academic institutions created bridges between teaching and research on the one hand, and the needs of industry on the other.

  • During an era in which a climate of repression predominated elsewhere in Europe – in the political arena and the economy, as well as against the new sciences – Switzerland enjoyed freedom and opportunities for development.
  • Switzerland was thus able to attract numerous specialists from all over Europe, which helped the Federal Institute of Technology to rapidly flourish and gain international appeal. Today it is a leading university and is currently ranked seventh in the world.

This appeal is still very strong today, as the fact that this congress is being held here demonstrates. Both in Zurich and Lausanne, research has given rise to spin-offs that have rapidly established themselves on the international drones market:

  • When reference is made throughout the world to “Drone Valley”, this does not concern a neighbour of “Silicon Valley”, but rather the regions of Zurich and Lausanne in which our two Federal Institutes of Technology are located.
  • This is something we can be proud of!

Initially, many people wrote off the preoccupation with drones as an eccentricity, or even wanted to prevent their further development because they were afraid of the associated risks.   

As we all know, new developments always open up opportunities, but they are also associated with uncertainties. And this applies to drones, too. In view of this it is necessary to gather findings from pilot projects and share them. Trials are necessary in order to identify technical potentials, as well as questions relating to safety, acceptance, legal aspects and liability. At the same time, it is important to further improve already existing and smoothly functioning systems.

  • In 2017, in Lugano Swiss Post introduced the world’s first drone delivery service for commercial clients. This involves the transport of laboratory samples between hospitals. In the meantime, other cities (including Zurich) are participating in this project.
  • The range of uses for drones is constantly increasing throughout the world and is already very broad: security, transport of agricultural and medical goods, humanitarian aid in crisis regions, etc. Drones are now being used to provide reliable services almost everywhere.

Research institutions and many companies, as well as state authorities, are making this possible. This calls for a government that provides the necessary framework conditions and sees itself as an enabler.

The Swiss authorities do in fact see themselves as an enabler.

But what does this mean in practice? How do we perceive this role?

On the one hand, as an enabler the government has to create a framework that permits technological development. This may include financial support, but does not necessarily have to do so. In my view, it is much more important for the government and administration to enable free thinking and the trialling and marketing of ideas. Background conditions, and thus above all regulation, can come later. These should be defined so that they do not prevent innovation, but rather provide the necessary framework.

New developments always cause a certain degree of anxiety. They also often create opportunities for improper use or can be harmful to nature or our health. If these risks predominate, the new development concerned will not gain social or political acceptance. Instead it will be opposed, regardless of the benefits that may be associated with the new technology.

Thus in its role as enabler, the government must closely monitor any harmful impacts on livelihood and society as a whole, and restrict and combat improper use. If we fail to do this, the new development will not meet with acceptance and in some cases may be prohibited by the legislator.

This means that a pragmatic approach is required:

  • Thanks to close cooperation between companies and universities, and adequate and unbureaucratic regulation by the relevant authorities, in Switzerland we have succeeded in creating an environment that is equally attractive for start-ups, companies and research institutions.  
  • Right from the start, the federal government closely monitored the development of drone technology through close contact with researchers and the industry.
  • Thus Switzerland is a pioneer in this area.

And this approach is now paying dividends:

  • In the drones sector there are currently more than 80 companies employing around 2,500 personnel.
  • The Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) already developed a method in 2010 for the reliable identification of complex risks. Switzerland has therefore increasingly influenced the relevant activities and development of standards at the international level.
  • Switzerland’s air navigation service provider, Skyguide, has developed a fully digitised airspace management system called “U-Space”, that was successfully tested in Geneva together with international partners for the first time in Europe. Today we will be seeing a demonstration of the further developed “U-Space” system.
  • For politicians it is not easy to waive regulation for once and see how new technologies function and develop. With respect to drones, adopting a different, unbureaucratic approach has proved to be the right choice.

As enabler, it is also important for the government to ensure that an exchange takes place beyond the national borders so that new ideas, trends and applications can in their turn be exchanged and discussed.

  • In other words, we need global networking. This facilitates progress.
  • Today, cutting-edge research cannot take place without the involvement of the world’s sharpest minds. The same applies with respect to groundbreaking technological and economic developments.

I hope that this first meeting of the Drone Innovators Network will provide everyone with an opportunity to meet a variety of specialists and participate in lively discussions.

There are still many questions to be answered. And this is a good opportunity to find some answers.

You will also have an opportunity to find out about various exciting projects. During the drone demonstration this afternoon, for example, you will be able to observe how a transport drone in U-Space in the middle of Zurich and in the vicinity of Zurich Airport will fly in complete safety to the Federal Institute of Technology campus – something that until very recently appeared to be inconceivable.

Thank you.

Address for enquiries

Communication DETEC, +41 58 462 55 11


General Secretariat of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications; General Secretariat DETEC

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