drone technology

The Drone Phenomenon: Innovation vs. Regulation

Alexandra Isenegger Business News, Founder's Post, Internet Technology

Earlier this month, Linkilaw had the pleasure of attending the annual Web Summit held in Dublin. Among the numerous topics presented during the course of the event, there was one which particularly fascinated me – drones.

Why? Well, aside from being astonishingly cool, the broad scope of applications that these machines offer is revolutionary. To clarify, a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – a remote aircraft flown without a pilot and controlled either from the ground or autonomously by an onboard computer.

As a result of new drone technology, our world has changed. Drones have opened up new possibilities we’ve never dreamed of, and they’ve also unleashed a flurry of privacy and security issues. And so, I decided to explore both sides of these controversial flying machines – the plusses and minuses – you be the judge!

A drone can help us save lives! A student at the university of TU Delft has created a prototype ambulance drone for heart attack victims. This drone carries a defibrillator that can be flown directly toward people suffering from cardiac arrests (at 60mph) allowing for an average response time of 1 minute! This is 10 times faster than the average response time of the traditional ambulance, increasing chances of survival from 8% to an astonishing 80%.

A drone can help us fight deforestation! As of today, half of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed. If we continue on this path, it will only take 100 years for them to become completely extinct. Biocarbon Engineering has developed a technology to plant trees with the use of drones! Their mission is ‘to counter industrial scale deforestation using industrial scale reforestation.’ Their technology allows trees to be planted by shooting seeds into the ground, very much like a gun shoots bullets – which gives weight to their ambition of planting one billion trees at a time!

A drone can help us save vast amounts of water! UAVs are now playing a crucial role in the agricultural industry. Until now, a great deal of water used on crops has gone to waste. All too often, incorrect amounts of irrigation are applied to given areas of land. Technologies carried by drones allow a farmer to calculate the varied saturation capacity of soil – assessing precisely the amount of water needed in specific areas of their land.

At the Web Summit, Linkilaw had the chance to attend several interesting talks given by world leading figures in the drone industry:

Drones: Capturing The World Above And Below

Romeo Durscher, Director of Education at DJI took us on quite a voyage. We learned from Romeo how innovative drone technology is so agile and precise that it lets us explore parts of the world from a perspective we’ve never seen before. And it’s mind-blowing!

Many remote locations are now no longer inaccessible to the lenses of our cameras, and DJI has images to prove it. Have a look at the Holuhran fissure in the Bardarbunga volcano which sprang back to life after a 100-year dormancy. This site in the center of Iceland is inaccessible by plane or helicopter, making these captivating images the first of their kind:

This breathtaking discovery can be taken beyond its visual beauty, by retrieving all sorts of data like the volcano’s temperature and air composition. UAVs are now contributing to advanced science, which is truly an exciting prospect.

“Drones For Good”

Another inspiring talk was given by Patrick Meier, the inspiring leader of the humanitarian UAViaters network, which has partnered with DJI, the largest drone manufacturer on earth.

Patrick’s drive has empowered local communities from all around the world. His question is: “Can robotics empower local communities to respond and recover from disasters?” And the answer is, in fact: “Yes it can!”

In beautiful Nepal, a country struck by the devastating Ghorka earthquake in April 2015, the affected communities were empowered through flying robotics. Patrick had two goals. Firstly, his mission was to train local partners to use the technology and fly drones safely. The second was to carry out a UAV mission in Panga, one of the areas most affected by this natural disaster.

The result of this humanitarian project was sensational. The highest resolution digital map of the region yet to be created was made possible. Patrick’s expectations were exceeded: “Locals added their local knowledge to the map, thus making it much more detailed. The entire community was directly involved.”

Crisis mapping allowed the villagers to see their home from an entirely new perspective, as a whole and from above. They were able to see clearly which areas were destroyed more than others – providing a more efficient strategy for rebuilding. Watch this incredible project in action, captured by DJI:

Now, despite all the good that Drones can bring us, they are also known to be dangerous, and are getting a lot of press for infringing on our personal and national privacy.

“When Worlds Collide: Technology, Aviation, and Drone Regulation”

Another talk we attended, gathered several experts and resulted in a very interesting debate. Participating in the discussion were: Ralph James – Director Safety Regulation, IAA (Irish Aviation Authority), Nick Aldworth – Chief Inspector of Specialist Operations for the Metropolitan Police, and Jay Bregman – Founder & CEO of Verifly.

The issue lies in the perception people have of drones. Are drone-manufacturers technology companies, or aircraft manufacturers? It’s a question of utmost importance, because the way legislators choose to answer it will have a huge impact on the regulations that the industry shall adapt.

Technology companies have little to no governance, whilst, as Ralph explains, “Aviation is probably the most highly regulated industry.” A balance needs to be struck between the two worlds. While it seems clear that a drone is not an aircraft, it could potentially interfere with one, and that’s where the security issues come into the picture.

Nick testifies: “We were seeing drones flying around London. It became obvious that this presented risks. Over the last 18 months, I have worked with MET police to see what can be done to regulate the market, but also to assess which opportunities can arise from it.” Nick also testified to witnessing small drones used to attack people, with for instance, paintball guns attached to them! However, it was clear from Nick’s input that although he sees the risks involved with UAVs, he also sees great potential.

Other than security issues, a lot of discussion indeed lies around infringement of privacy. Current regulations dictate that drones can neither be flown above an altitude of 400 feet, nor over private property – the reason being that UAVs can easily film individuals in their own homes without their consent. Such an act not only violates national laws but goes against our human right for a private and family life under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Nonetheless, despite such laws being in place, the general public will continue to abuse the use of drones.

Another risk lies in the fact that drones are still rather complex machines and that many people who purchase them don’t know how to operate them properly. This raises key question such as: should we have drone licences, much like we have for the use of a car? Must we be obliged to take flying lessons and pass a test (as is required for the commercial use of the machines) before taking ownership?

Jay Bregman is on the other side of the table, lobbying for the personal use of drones. He explains that many people use drones to film their sporting prowess, from remote areas or at sea, which is all legal. He also notes that by Christmas, 1 million drones will have been sold worldwide and so regulators must hurry if they wish to keep things under control.

The United States, according to Jay, is currently trying to pass laws that would oblige every drone to be registered. This would help authenticate the abusers and could be a potential solution, and as Nick explains it: “[The Police and Regulators] job is to create regulations separating the reasonable and sensible user from the one who will do harm. If we can regulate how drones operate in our airspace, this allows us to really understand where the threat lies.” Jay also sees a potential solution in Geofencing, which would effectively stop technology from coming to areas where risk is more elevated – for example in airplane flying zones.

All in all, it is undoubtedly true that drones have incredible potential to improve our lives. While the risks are considerable, they should not stop us from diving into the mind-boggling realms offered by this revolutionary technology. It will be up to the regulators to make sure things run smoothly, without getting in the way of the numerous innovators that this industry is attracting.

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