Is Drone Technology Beneficial?
Drone technology has proliferated in recent years, with users ranging from military, to scientists, to backyard hobbyists. But is drone technology beneficial? A technology doesn’t rapidly expand without a lot of advantages to drive interest and use. It is also true, though, that sudden popularity comes with disadvantages as well.
A drone is an aircraft capable of autonomous flight controlled remotely by a grounded pilot. Working with on board computers and Global Position System (GPS) technology, drones are both highly useful and increasingly accessible. Drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), come with a healthy dose of rules, regulations, scientific and military potential, recreational thrills, and ethical dilemmas. For a deeper look at rules and safety tips , the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers a comprehensive primer. An introductory examination of the pros and cons of drone technology is a good place to explore the potential benefits and detriments of this exciting technology.
Pros of Drone Technology
Perhaps unsurprisingly, military use will show up here as both a pro and con. On the pro side, drone technology has helped military units execute dangerous missions without risking the lives of airborne pilots. Drones are also smaller than traditional aircraft, meaning there is a cost benefit due to less material and therefore an opportunity to redirect funds for other purposes. Additionally, the technology used to operate drones also supports pinpoint accuracy that can strike military targets with a reduced chance of civilian casualties.
Drones are useful for broad scope surveillance to evaluate things like forest fires, wildlife migration, avalanche risk and urban planning. A small drone with a mounted camera can quickly, and relatively inexpensively, provide a high-level view of any number of terrains and situations to help operators gather valuable information that would be otherwise difficult and/or expensive to obtain.
Monitoring Illegal Activity
With their quick deployment, small size and relative anonymity, drones are highly effective at surreptitiously monitoring illegal behavior. The World Wildlife Fund has used drones to help document poaching and illegal trade; Brazil has deployed drones to monitor deforestation and illegal mining in the Amazon, and the FBI has been using drone surveillance for more than a decade.
In the agriculture industry, drones are useful for their aerial visuals that help to monitor crop and livestock health and check for weeds, but they can also be equipped with technology that allows them to plant seeds and spray crops with great precision. And the “drone delivery” trend is just beginning to take off. Amazon.com has unveiled its Prime Air delivery drone, and it is part of the company’s “Shipment Zero” initiative. They expect drone delivery to help them make 50% of all shipments net zero carbon by 2030.
Cons of Drone Technology
The relative ease with which drones can be deployed for military use has the potential to increase the frequency of military conflict. The lower risk assumed by the initiator tips the balance of risk that could otherwise lead to diplomatic resolution. Simply put, the ease of drone attacks can lead to more drone attacks.
Currently, there are limited FAA regulations related to drone flight in residential areas. With their small size and camera-mounting ability, drones can easily invade private property space and send pictures and/or video back to the operator. Regulations may very well come into place over time. For now, though, drone technology is operating in a “Wild West” era.
Drones are a highly accessible technology (you can buy a drone equipped with a camera for $200 – $300), and with limited regulations, people can purchase a drone and be flying it that same day. Drone accidents can range from the amusingly inconvenient to the very serious. And, of course, not all danger is by accident. Tracking a drone back to its owner is not always an easy task. The most reliable method is to follow the drone back to its origination point, if that is a feasible option. With relative anonymity for the drone pilot, illegal activity may go unchecked.
Enabling Illegal Activity
Just as drones can help monitor illegal activity, they can be used in support of it as well. One common problem is flying drones in off-limits air space, like airports, over stadiums and sporting events, or pretty much anywhere in Washington, D.C. Drones have been reported as interfering with fire fighting operations, dropping contraband into prisons, and enabling illegal surveillance. If you are concerned with someone watching you with their drone, keep in mind that you are probably not protected by any drone-specific laws; rather, your protection would come from existing privacy – or perhaps noise ordinance – laws instead.
Drone technology isn’t going away anytime soon, but the question about whether or not drone technology is beneficial could have an impact on law making. The technology itself, of course, is neutral. What people do with it can be good or bad. In this case, the pros of the technology seem worth the risk. However, the cons certainly make a good case for a quicker adoption of federal and local regulations.
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