The last thing Google’s Eric Schmidt wants to see is a drone hovering over his yard. Not the kind of drone which drops missiles and kills people in Pakistan, mind you, but the kind you can take out of a box and just let loose. The kind of drone that civilians can, and likely will, use in the near future. That’s why, Schmidt argues, they need to be regulated before they even become an issue.
Schmidt’s concerns lie with potential, if petty, privacy abuses for drones, posing this potential problem to The Guardian:
You’re having a dispute with your neighbor. How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their backyard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?’
He goes on to say that the prolific use of drones could enable terrorists and ne’er do wells, and prefers not to “democratize the ability to fight war to every single human being.”
There’s one problem with Schmidt’s regulatory vision of drones: money. There’s simply too much money on the table for civilian and private enterprises to forgo the use drones due to — completely legitimate — privacy concerns. That’s because fueling and piloting helicopters requires a large heap of money for when it’s necessary; especially when monitoring a large swath of land like, say, an oil pipeline.
These type of drones, which would seek out potential oil leaks, plot rivers, find lost hikers and ships gone astray are, technically, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and require a pilot’s license. The FAA already regulates and requries certifications for these UAVs.
But the drones in question are scarcely like the above UAVs and the Predator drones used by the U.S. military. They’re the kind regulated to stay within remote control radio range and stay below 400 feet. They’re the short-term fliers which could be automated depending on the needs of the user. They will be common, like it or not.
Security, is one reason why they’ll become commonplace. A team of two or three drones can provide 24 hour surveillance of constructions sites or private property without hiring a dozen guards. Drones could also (and in some cases already are) used to cover emergency situations like earthquakes.
Finally, drones have the potential to become a common delivery system — and we’re not talking satire. A nonprofit organization called ReAllocate developed a 2012 Burning Man project called “Blue Sky” which would deliver 3D-printed models of an attendee via drone. The attendees would strike a pose in a pavilion, get scanned by a hacked Kinect camera, and take a GPS receiver when they leave so the drones could track them down and deliver their goods.
Such an autonomous system isn’t inconceivable outside of a festival: most smartphones carry with them some form of accurate tracking system which could be used in lieu of a GPS. And an autonomous drone convoy could deliver important medications, supplies and goods to those in need or in hard to reach areas of the world. To regulate this sort of industry out of existence would be foolish.
So are we doomed to a world with quadcopters hovering over our every movement, peering into our bedroom windows? Probably not, though there are legitimate worries over privacy with very little in the way of a potential solution. But that’s another post for another time.