Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Truth about Drones

Live from SXSW: The Truth about Drones - Deloitte CIO

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Two specialists in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles debunk five myths surrounding one of the most hotly debated technologies today.
From fevered predictions in the 1890s that bicycles would disrupt the family unit to widespread rumors in the 1990s warning of the Internet’s imminent collapse, skepticism and misinformation invariably greet the emergence of new technologies. Today, flying drones elicit both curiosity and trepidation from numerous quarters. Some foresee squadrons of drones darkening the sky, buzzing about like swarms of locusts. Others harbor concerns about privacy. Everyone, it seems, looks to Washington for some type of regulatory framework to address these and other concerns.
Speaking at the 2014 SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, two specialists in drone technology—Samra Kasim and Matt Caccavale, who as fellows in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s GovLab program study the effects of disruptive trends—attempted to cut through the fog of misinformation by debunking the following five myths surrounding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs):
Myth 1: All drones are created equal. It is easy for the public to equate the terms UAV or drone with the iconic Predator or Global Hawk airframes used in military missions. In reality, these large airframes make up less than a quarter of the U.S. government’s publicly disclosed drone fleet. In fact, it is the small UAV (sUAV) that is driving much of the growth in the drone industry. Common small airframes, like the Parrot or the DJI Phantom, are significantly less expensive, can weigh as little as five pounds, and can be built with off-the-shelf software and hardware.
Myth 2: The United States is the only country using UAVs. While many popular UAV airframes are produced by U.S. manufacturers, the United States lags other nations in deploying unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes. Japan and Australia have used UAVs for precision agriculture since the 1990s. In fact, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) boasts members from France, Germany, and the U.K., among other nations. The recent Drone Census conducted byDroneU found 81 do-it-yourself drone associations, 21 of which are based outside the U.S.
Myth 3: Drones will fill the sky. Frequent media reports claim that 30,000 UAVs will be operating in domestic airspace by 2020. Out of context, such a figure seems immense, but consider this: The U.S. national airspace averages nearly 87,000 flights per day; the skies are already “filled” with planes. A more nuanced look at the use cases for UAVs indicates that many small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAVs) will not operate in our skies, but indoors. Researchers are developing navigation systems that will allow sUAVs to conduct indoor operations such as inspecting large construction projects or managing a warehouse. Indoor sUAVs are also benefitting from rapid technological advancements because indoor airspace does not need Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval or oversight, allowing experimentation and development by entrepreneurs, academics, and hobbyists.
Myth 4: The federal government lacks a plan to integrate domestic UAVs. As drones have an increasing presence in our national airspace, the FAA is taking strategic steps to ensure their safety. Recently released FAA documents such as the UAS road map outline the FAA’s strategy and timeline for integrating UAVs in the national airspace system. The road map reflects a conservative and calculated outlook, with the FAA and the Department of Transportation adopting a cautious approachthat places significant emphasis on R&D, testing, rulemaking, and technology development. Recent events, such as a ruling in the administrative proceeding FAA v. Pirker invalidating the FAA’s fine against a drone operator, have brought the issue of drones for commercial use to the fore.
Myth 5: Drones will erode privacy. Given that some drones feature high-definition cameras, GPS, and advanced sensors, concern over privacy issues is understandable. However, there is a healthy debate taking place about the constitutional use of UAVs under the Fourth Amendment. As a result, the FAA, courts, and legislatures around the country are considering how to protect privacy while enabling the growth of technology and looking to precedent. For example, major decisions in court cases such as Kyllo vs. United States, which considered whether a warrant was required to use a thermal imaging device from a public spot to view someone’s home, may inform how privacy issues will be addressed in the age of UAVs.

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