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Perception vs Reality: Drones

December 29, 2016 by Daniel Wellers

Perception: Drones are as easy to use as smartphones.

Reality: Enterprise drones are a different class than hobbyists’ toys. Just operating them commercially requires training, certification, and compliance with emerging government regulations. To fully utilize them in industrial applications and maximize their business value requires deep integration into existing business processes and workflows, a thorough understanding of their data security implications, and expertise in flight operations and fleet management.

Early deployments suggest drones have vast potential for real-time business. They are an ideal platform for carrying the ever-expanding array of sensors measuring heat, light, motion, vibration, chemical and biological agents, acceleration, torque, and gestures in virtually any location. High-speed communications can make all this data available instantly for analysis or for automatically triggering workflows. For example, an insurance company could use drones for disaster assessment, connecting live streams of information about building and infrastructure damage, heat sources, and airborne toxins to their claims systems.

Perception: Soon we’ll be swatting drones away like flies.

Reality: Will the skies fill up with swarms of drones? It may depend on where you are.

In March 2016, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration predicted that sales for commercial drones could increase from 600,000 to 2.7 million by 2020. But three months later, the agency issued regulations to determine where, when, and how fast those drones can operate. In this case, drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly only in good weather, maintain a speed under 100 mph, stay away from airports, and remain in view of their certified operators.

Rules in some other countries are more restrictive. Australia, for instance, requires certification of commercial drone operators. Meanwhile Israel mandates advanced pilot’s licenses and insurance. As regulations continue to evolve, the use of drones in corporate, manufacturing, warehousing, and other closed settings will likely be impacted to some degree. Even though international rules are not yet set, such policies are a good first step in managing drone proliferation responsibly, which will accelerate the acceptance and economic benefits of this powerful innovation.

Perception: We’ll have no shred of privacy left.

Reality: To date, policy makers around the world have yet to craft enforceable government regulations that fully address the obvious privacy issues inherent in any potentially omnipresent, all-seeing technology. And not surprisingly, advocates for privacy protection view this as a glaring omission.

To help rein in nosy people or worse, the U.S. Department of Commerce convened a group of experts to devise some reasonable guidelines. In May 2016, it released Voluntary Best Practices for UAS Privacy, Transparency, and Accountability, which is full of sound ideas and includes an appendix outlining the responsible use of unmanned aircraft systems in the commercial and private sectors. However, as the report title itself makes clear, these suggestions are only recommendations—not law.

It’s fair to say that this issue is a long way from being resolved. Tech industry groups, law enforcement associations, and civil rights organizations are all concerned about how to maintain the delicate balance between privacy and security that’s challenged by this powerful and accelerating technology.

Dan Wellers is the Global Lead of Digital Futures at SAP

This story originally appeared on Digitalist Magazine.

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