LAS VEGAS — During the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show here earlier this month, a panel was held on how to formulate a global drone framework. The ability of the robotics and drones to take off for industrial, public-sector, and consumer use will depend on how governments around the world decide to regulate this technology.
I’ve been tracking drone policies around the world as a geopolitical futurist, and such policies will affect drones as they are deployed in more settings, moving beyond military to include logistics, healthcare, and more. In the U.S., there are now more registered drones than planes, and consultancy PwC is predicting that the commercial global drone market will grow from $2 billion to $127 billion by 2020.
With a huge flock of drones on the horizon, the need for regulations has never been greater. The CES panel appeared on the outset to be a look into how a drone framework will launch the industry, but it wasn’t so.
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- There is a void in the industry when it comes to formulating a drone framework to address unmanned aerial vehicle behavior in different countries.
- Any attempt to create global standards will fail because each nation has its own political, social, and economic system and plans.
- Authorities approaching drone regulations need to focus on localized understanding and context, even if it is between like-minded nations or regions such as the U.S. and Western Europe.
Consensus is hard to come by
The biggest shortfall was that the panelists, which included government officials and the private-sector representatives, all agreed on the need for drone policies but did not provide any ideas as to what these policies should be.
One panelist mentioned how drones can support humanitarian or military efforts in dealing with geopolitical challenges such as Syria but didn’t tie this into what it meant for drone policies.
Another panelist, from a U.S. federal agency, talked about working with Canada and Mexico to create standardized drone rules. Even though an official from Mexico was also present, this appeared to be more of an informal agreement on stage than anything else.
When it came time for questions, I asked the panelists about their thoughts on how to create policies for autonomous drones, especially those in military settings, and whether creating a drone framework is even possible.
The entire panel went quiet. The only response, from the same gentleman who had made the informal agreement on stage, was that ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) don’t have regulations, so why should autonomous drones? This response reflected both his priorities and his depth of thinking.
The one-hour panel discussion didn’t meet its potential for two reasons. First, the panelists themselves had no “envelope-pushing” ideas. And second, they — and others — are approaching drone protections and policies in the wrong way.
A true drone framework must be multifaceted
Developing drone policies should be broken into two categories.
The first is standardized rules that manage three things: safety, logistics, and data. In fact, the British official did bring up data concerns and described how drones that collect data now fall under British data-protection laws. However, this was one of the only real-world examples shared.
The challenge for this approach is that drone and robotics applications are expanding constantly, so the way we approach regulatory development needs to change. Instead of creating a new drone framework that can grow old within 24 months, it might be better to innovate a new kind of guideline, like “real-time” regulations backed by artificial intelligence that can update based on drone advances and applications.
The second category is more complicated. It revolves around data protection and cyber security. The CES panel fell short in this area, too. It didn’t address this issue, and the panelists implied that there can be global rules for privacy and the Internet of Things, when there can’t be.
China and Russia have laws that require Internet companies to keep data within the country and give the government access. By contrast, the EU is taking steps to ensure privacy with measures such as forcing Google to forget people upon request.
India, the U.S., and many others all have their own data rules. And when it comes to cyber security and drones, there is no “one size fits all” approach. This makes navigating different regions extremely complex and forces robotics companies to stop thinking from a global standpoint and start thinking from a regional or country-specific point of view.
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More on Drones and Robotics:
- Cyber Security Revealed as a Robot Weakness at CES 2017
- Drones in Warehouses — When Will They Take Off?
- International CES 2017: Government Robotics Leadership Re-Emerges
- Asian AI Could Dominate CES 2017
- FAA to Approve Drone Test Flights Beyond Line of Sight
- Top 5 Ways President Trump Could Change U.S. Robotics
- Robotics Companies Must Develop a GeoRobotics Strategy
- Drone Funding Provides Lift for Specific Applications
- Why Robot Law Around Industrial Automation Varies Worldwide
Think globally, act locally
The drone framework panel at CES felt like it was hastily organized to address new topics around UAVs. The regulatory challenges that the panel did not discuss are still worth considering, however.
How do we go about developing drone policies that remain up to date even as drone technology advances and applications increase? How will each country or region approach cyber security and data protection for drones, considering each one has its own unique political, economic, and social systems?
Ironically, drone providers that hope to go global today should first become local. As attention this month shifts from consumer technology to government policy and the diverse global economy, I hope that companies and policy makers can focus on building a true drone framework.