Technology once limited only to the military is now available in every hobby store. Drone technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade, providing longer flight times, easier control, and advanced features such as automatic stabilization. Unfortunately, this is also presenting problems for both lawmakers and hobbyists, as both struggle to figure how this new technology should be managed.
A few years ago, many companies were discussing using drones for deliveries. Drones could be used for everything from Amazon packages to hot meals. And while this idea is still alive and well, the major concern has become not the technology, but the regulations surrounding that technology. Airspace is incredibly important not only to privacy and security, but also issues of national defense.
Airspace is protected for the safety of planes and other air transportation. However, protected airspace is also not always obvious, as it’s never needed to be in the past. In the past, there’s never been a widespread technology that could easily interrupt airspace. When a drone flies into the path of a plane, it isn’t just the drone that can get damaged. Many planes have been grounded by less: a drone going into a plane engine could easily crash it, just as birds frequently do.
These concerns were recently brought back to the forefront.
2019 began with sightings of a drone in the Heathrow airport, forcing planes to land. Both military personnel and police have been engaged to investigate, but this highlights a very real problem. A single drone was able to take down a number of flights, and if that drone had not been noticed it could have damaged a plane or injured those aboard. Even without injury, the landing of these flights obviously caused disruption and economic difficulties. Despite this, no one has been able to identify the operator.
This awakens a new fear. Not only could drones potentially be used as an untraceable method of terrorism (not all that likely, but concerning), but drones that are just flown around by hobbyists or teenagers could present a very real risk to planes. Moreover, these hobbyists may never be caught, which means there’s limited repercussions for their actions.
Operating a drone on an airfield is highly illegal, but if it’s impossible to figure out who has done it, it is effectively a law that has no consequence. As drones become more popular and common, this problem is only going to become more significant.
All of this taps into a need to be able to identify drones as well as to ensure that drones are registered to a single person. Right now, drones are not entirely regulated. While heavy, professional grade drones may have some registration attached to them, most people can purchase a lightweight drone right now and begin flying it. Drones that are less than $100 are sold as toys and are becoming increasingly capable.
Further, when everyone has a drone, it may become difficult to ensure that they are all property registered and identified. Drones put a large amount of power into the hands of people who are largely untrained, and many of these people are not aware of airspace regulations or the dangers that their drones could present. Furthermore, not all issues are intentional. A drone that someone loses control of could also veer into airspace and cause issues.
Monitoring services may be able to alleviate some of the issues with drones and airspace technology. If drones are required to have some form of embedded tracking and even the ability to take remote control over them, then there may be a way that airport personnel and police officers can react immediately to potential threats. Yet drone technology is also simple enough that many of these controls could likely be removed, and most of these issues will increasingly impact large, heavyweight, professional drones, but not the lighter weight toy drones that are also becoming common.
Drone technology is likely to become a major issue moving forward, as the technology is advancing at a pace that is leaving behind most regulations. Many countries are now dealing with this new problem and will have to find a solution that doesn’t completely hamstring the popular consumer goods.