Geo Week News

October 30, 2013

Drone U

For the last couple of years, there has been a lot of buzz around the use of drones, or UAVs, as some would prefer to call them. There’s no doubt that it’s cool tech, but the lack of a legal framework surrounding their use has definitely kept me out of the market. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not keeping a close eye on that market, and I’m not the only one.

In fact, the New America Foundation has set up an educational site named Drone U that is an invaluable resource to anyone that is interested in aerial robotic platforms in any industry. While it is undoubtedly promoting the use of drones by giving a platform to many of the leading voices in the field, the site does a pretty good job of not taking sides on the issues raised and giving equal exposure to various perspectives. The site provides new content every couple of weeks and best of all (for a maphead like myself) a census that plots all things Drone. From military bases to private companies to state legislation, the census plots it for an interesting take on where the drone hotspots are and just how diversified the industry is even at this early stage.

The content is presented as a series of short lectures with an associated reading list. I really like this format as I can check out a 15-20 minute podcast, decide if it is applicable, and move on or dig in, depending upon my level of interest. Some of the topics are quite a bit beyond the nuts and bolts discussions normally found on drone user forums. I found the discussions on ethics to be particularly interesting. While they presented issues we are all familiar with such as privacy issues, airspace use issues, and such, they also presented ethical issues that I had not yet considered. Once these objects exist in our physical space how do we treat them? Does the lack of feelings mean that we can “mistreat” them without recourse (save for property damage issues)? Do we consider any of them to be broadcasting live to the Internet such that we live our lives as though we are on camera 24-7? How many are airborne before the noise and visual obstructions are considered “Drone Smog”?

The overview of proposed solutions to these problems is itself quite eye opening. The proposals often simply highlight the lack of understanding and/or imagination of those drawing up the proposals. First drafts are usually far from perfect, but the final word is typically written by the courts (at least that’s the case here in the USA). The problem there is that most of these questions will come down to an interpretation of laws and constitutional amendments, many of which not only pre-date drones but electrical motors!

There is little disagreement about the fact that drones/UAVs will be a disruptive technology. That means there will be winners and losers as jobs are both created and eliminated by these new technologies. Drone U provides a good way to learn who the players are and how the game is being played.

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