They’re everywhere already

The Department for Transport’s ‘public dialogue on drone use in the UK’, published on 21 December, sheds some light into the perception of small UAS used by hobbyists and commercial operators, as well as the perceived risks to privacy and terrorist use.

Drones are of course a serious business and obviously require certification and licensing to operate them for commercial purposes or flights that would otherwise breach the very specific boundaries set by the Civil Aviation Authority.

However, Quill or Capture wants to calm some of the more outlandish comments raised during the process in a bid to do its part, or create mischief. To take a quick (biased) sample of comments (in no particular order) this blog will provide a few answers to hopefully alleviate some of the (at times warranted) public tension about such aircraft.

Comment 1: ‘I think the anonymity of them. That’s what prompted me to think about Skynet in Terminator. You know? They could think for themselves.’

Answer 1: While unmanned systems autonomy in the military sense is progressing there is still a long, long way to go before an RPAS is capable of the independent thought described here. Even if such capabilities pass the ethical barriers, the technological one might prove insurmountable. And if they could, AI drones would probably be more conscientious pilots than people.

Comment 2: ‘When I heard about crop spraying I thought that’s quite a good tool for terrorists isn’t it, chemical warfare.’

Answer 2: In more unstable parts of the world small UAS, costing some hundreds of pounds but not much more, can and have been used in an ISR and military capability by various state and non-state forces. If you are concerned about a quadcopter being used for such purposes in the UK, don’t be, as there is a whole apparatus of security and policing that would prevent item A being payloaded to item B.

Comment 3: ‘If you go in and buy one of these for a kid from Argos at £49.99, does it have the same capabilities and distance as one at £500 or £5,000?’

Answer 3: No. One has to make very clear that up to a point, the responsibility for drones purchased by adults for children and their misuse should be borne by the grown up. And if you’re splashing out £5000 this Christmas for one of your nearest and dearest, can I have one too?

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Looking at it seriously, the public dialogue raises very clear points about the potential for drone misuse and the need to create some sort of system to restrict their use, in effect, to force operators to abide by CAA rules. One suspect that, as mentioned in the document, geo-fencing will play it’s part as will the proper and effective licensing of high-end small UAS by hobbyists or commercial enterprises.

Indeed the last issue of Unmanned Vehicles examined the subject of drone flight schools and the at times the extremely lax standards that a few hold their pupils too.

But also worrying is the general public’s actual understanding of the technologies involved, the vast differences in system capabilities (forgetting weight here, as this is by no means a definitive method of classification), and the ignorance/negligence of some operators in flying their aircraft safely.

However the longer government tries to figure out the best way forward, the further and further ahead unmanned technologies gets ahead. But let’s leave the last word to Comment 4:

‘It feels a bit like closing the door after the horse has bolted, drones are already everywhere!’

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4 comments

  • About the comment 2, i think this is something we need to look at different perspective.Beside the crop spraying task, maybe in the future, the drone itself can pick the fruit and have some kind of sensor to know the fruit is ripe or not. In order to prevent that kind of chemical warfare, when you search around the net, there are so many device or tool, to take down the illegal flying drone.Of course the ones that military have, could be more sophisticated than the one being sold on the internet.

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    • Thanks for the comment. The counter-UAS market will likely be one of the most competitive this year, as well as a area of interesting industrial innovation.

      As for crop picking, judging by how I flew my recently acquired drone over the holidays it’s probably best I pick the apples by hand in the summer.

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