Fears abound regarding the proliferation of drones and invasion of privacy – an aerial view of your property was once rare and expensive. Concerns for aircraft safety make for dramatic tabloid headlines. Notions of autonomous drone shopping deliveries still seem far-fetched and drone landing platforms have not yet added to the clutter of dish aerials on apartment buildings. Drone technologies are, however, finding useful applications beyond the military.
The search drone donation (by Direct Line) to the Caister lifeboat highlights these imaginative applications. That particular offshore use arose from a need to provide lighting in many onshore environments – extending the working day for construction teams or providing security for rural folk walking home late at night.
The recent rash of devastations caused by earthquakes and hurricanes – not to mention the need to observe ethnic cleansing – all point towards greater drone usage to bolster resilience. Recent awareness of the scope for mobile technologies to monitor rainfall (as reported by the Economist magazine) could also trigger early warning drone usage where landslips and mudslides may be imminent. Back in 2015 one of the UK’s Digital Challenge Award winners featured a drone to monitor uplands to assess flood-risks to estuary towns – though at that time the Civil Aviation Authority needed a great deal of persuasion to grant a licence.
As with many novel technologies, their real value only emerges when used in conjunction with several other components – and it takes time for innovators to join the dots. The notion of a swarm (or fleet) of drones acting in concert may still seem far-fetched but surely it will not be long before video coverage of sporting events will be feeding new realities to viewers and yachtsmen will be peering ahead for a berth when still a mile offshore.
Whatever next? No-one has yet invented a virtual faraday cage to blot out unwarranted paparazi intrusions so perhaps the media (and police) will need stricter regulation for these spies in the skies – particularly if mobile-derived weather data becomes monetarised as one of the solution components.