Although drone hardware and software technology is rapidly evolving, privacy and safety matters are still a top concern to the public. In a study carried out in December 2017 by Pew Research Center, 54% of the public thinks drones should not be allowed to fly near people’s homes.
This isn’t very surprising, especially when there’s a large amount of news about drones causing disturbances in different locations – mainly airports. As a perfect example of this, the FAA is currently investigating an incident in which someone apparently piloted a drone right above a jet landing at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. These issues of privacy and safety when it comes to drones are as important as they are interrelated.
To understand what needs to be done, and what steps need to be taken, we connected with Percepto’s Marketing Director Shirley Salzman.
Commercial UAV News: In reference to the recent Pew Research Center article/survey, I don’t find it surprising that 54% of the population thinks flying drones near homes shouldn’t be allowed. Although this is a US survey, it is the consensus all over the world, and it’s understandable as we all want our privacy to remain intact. However, as we’ve mentioned, this is “probably the most significant issue that really isn’t a big deal” because drones have the ability to take pictures of people’s homes when they’re flying over or near them, but so do satellites. I’m not saying the issue doesn’t need addressing but is it that big of a concern? What is your opinion on this?
Shirley Salzman: While it’s understandable that the general population has concerns over their privacy, future technologies along with the right regulations would enable drones to operate in urban areas with minimum compromise on people’s privacy. To some extent, drones are part of the evolution of other technologies already out there. We live in a world where we are constantly being watched by CCTV, for example, or like you mentioned – satellites are just as intrusive as drones.
However, it should be noted that although people tend to lump all drones together, they are not all created equal. Recreational drones are responsible for most accidents and near accidents, as they are used more in the public space and with less supervision. In contrast, industrial drones, like the ones we develop at Percepto, are operated in strictly defined locations, like industrial sites and other protected locations, which presents much less risk for people. They also have a built-in mechanism which prevents the drone from operating in unsolicited areas.
In the future, this technology will be applied to dozens of drones that will take over urban skies, meaning people will be able to enjoy the convenience of drone pizza delivery, without any compromise to their sense of privacy.
The article also mentions that “through the first nine months of 2017, the FAA had received an average of 155 reports per month” regarding UAS sightings around planes, airports and other unauthorized areas. Do you think the recently reinstated rules requiring all recreational drone owners to register their aircraft with the US Government will help to lower the number of these reports, as well as with privacy and safety concerns?
I do not think that requiring everyone to register their drones will help reduce safety concerns at the moment. This would certainly increase enforcement and help the authorities match drones to their owners so that the next time drones are violating the law, they can be intercepted and tracked. While this makes sense from a law enforcement perspective, what we should really be focusing on is how to safely handle drones and where they should be permitted to fly. Perhaps in the future, as drones become more integrated into society, drone registration will be beneficial as it will make it easier to monitor activities and will encourage users to be more responsible. This is also setting the ground for future UTM (UAS’s Traffic Management) – an essential component for implementation of the vision for drone operations.
Since being founded in 2013, I assume Percepto’s goal is to grow and find new companies to work with. After 5 years in the drone industry, is it still as hard as it was back then to spread the word about the technology, and get people/companies interested in it? How do you approach someone that’s reluctant about using a drone?
Many potential customers today are very excited about drones. Most of them have at least been exposed to the benefits of aerial imagery in some capacity, which allows them to see the value in our technology. When people understand the advantages of using an autonomous drone, such as reducing risks to their teams without additional manpower costs, they are intrigued.
The real reluctance we get comes from regulation hurdles and lengthy approval processes. Currently, regulations are such that there is a very little distinction made between the various drones used for different purposes. This is where regulators can probably create a more free operations environment in supervised locations by empowering the HSE officers or UAS experts to set their own operational criteria without FAA waiver procedures.
Just like with the airline industry, had the Wright brothers stopped their progress after a couple of accidents or mistakes, where would we be today? We need to allow the industry to progress without increasing risk to the general public, which will, in turn, reduce reluctance and lead to greater progress and innovation.
What do you think the next steps should be to improve the general acceptance of drones?
This ties into the previous question – as soon as the public sees that drones are safely operating in unpopulated areas, the level of general trust will increase. Industrial sites or rural areas are great test sites to demonstrate the most cutting-edge drone technologies. Those areas can easily enforce clear safety procedures enabling drone operations without significant risk. Once the level of reliability improves, it will be easier to roll out drone operations in more densely populated areas.