The pros and cons of drones

Are drones really worth it?

Pros and Cons of Drones

The last century introduced us to an innovative technology, known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Drones, that seems to have caught everyone’s attention. This new industry is on the rise and has seemingly overnight become a billion dollar industry. Drones were initially available for commercial customers but like all great trends has rippled out into all sorts of directions. Today, the civil uses of drones are uncountable. While this rapid advancement of drones has made life easier, it has also raised concerns among Americans. Many ponder what rights will they be forced to give up all while reaping all the benefits of this technological innovation. What are we seeing with the pros and cons of drones?

Pros and Cons of Drones: A Luxury Gimmick or a Valuable Invention?

Regardless of the safety concerns associated with the use of UAVs, one cannot deny the fact that drones have actually revolutionized several industries. Experts suggest that the rapid proliferation of drones in a multitude of industries will soon make people wonder how they ever lived without drones in their lives.

Watch Amazon Prime Air in action.

While drones have been around for several decades, it’s the civil application of this technology that has gained it special accolade from customers. Amazon uses drones to fly packages out to customers within just 30 minutes of ordering. Facebook’s solar-powered drone network could potentially provide internet access to the world in the near future. Drones have also have added growth in the employment sector. There are now dozens of ways to make money using drones. Here’s what makes drones worthy of purchasing:

  1. Drones are Cheap — Contrary to popular assumption, drones are a comparatively cheaper alternative to traditional delivery methods. The cost-value analysis of Amazon’s Prime Air suggests that the benefits and potential revenues of drone delivery outweigh the operational costs of the system. The same applies to the use of drones by law enforcement agencies.
  2. Drones Allow Precision — Drones integrated with advanced GPS technology are extremely accurate and precise. Considering the UAVs’ ability to pinpoint the target, a new type of farming called ‘precision farming’ has already been introduced. Precision Farming makes use of agricultural drones to spray infested crops with pesticides.
  3. Drones are easily deployable — Drones offer easy deployment compared to their alternatives. Apart from this, unlike man-run aircrafts, drones can fly lower and for longer hours without any operational downtime. This consequently adds to operational efficiency and contributes to the cost-effectiveness of UAVs.

Are We Ready for Domestic Drones Use?

Despite the extraordinary benefits and numerous applications of domestic drones, their use remains debatable due to several concerns associated with them. Of all these issues,  property rights protection  remains the primary concern. With easy accessibility of domestic drones for recreational purposes, the violation of property rights and privacy is not a far-fetched idea.

The first incident that opened the eyes of US citizens occurred in 1942. A chicken farmer sued the US government for flying its military aircrafts so low that they scared the farmer’s bird, damaging his livelihood. It was after this case that the Supreme Court set the limit of private space to 83 feet up in the air. While drones can fly well below 83 feet without making any noise or damaging the property, they contain surveillance gear that is operable by an anonymous person. The recent advancements have made it possible for drone owners to record videos, sounds, and spy on someone via Wi-Fi.

The Center for Crime and Justice Policy conducted a survey to determine the level of concern among adults regarding the use of drones for monitoring people’s daily activities. Over 70% of the respondents agreed to the fact that they were ‘very concerned’ with the use of drones around their homes. The same figure drops to 46% and 26% for workplace and public places respectively.

Pros and Cons of Drones
Figure 1 – Level of Concern about Drone Use for Monitoring People’s Daily Activities

In addition to the general public’s concern over the use of domestic drones, contrasting opinions over the legislation of drones exist. There is a debate on whether drones should be treated the same way as fixed surveillance cameras or not. While there are a few similarities, the differences are many. To start with, drones are just like robots that are always collecting data. The longer they loiter over a property, the more information they draw in. This poses a serious threat to privacy compared to manned aerial vehicles and fixed surveillance cameras. Other than this, drone manufacturers have developed UAVs that can hack telephone and text-based conversations, without the knowledge of the service provider and the consumer. The small size and seamless mobility of drones often make them unnoticeable, making them more pervasive compared to the conventional manned flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has defined special laws for both recreational and commercial unmanned aircraft systems. However, the law does not define a specific limit for determining the airspace property rights. FAA guidance says that model aircrafts and recreational drones must be flown at a sufficient distance from populated areas. To further add to the problem, there are different set of laws proposed by the local government and different associations. For example:

  • In Los Angeles, it is illegal to fly within 25 feet of a person or at any public location.
  • The Academy of Model Aeronautics suggests that drone should be flown below 400 feet, but not over unprotected people or vehicles.

Who Owns the Sky?

The growing inadequacy and ambiguity of existing airspace right laws remain the major reason behind the debate over the use of domestic drones. The current laws provide no definite guidelines on the 3D columns of airspace that belong to the owners, leading to increasing number of cases of aerial trespassing.

This calls for new laws to provide protection to landowners, individuals who use domestic drones for recreational purposes, and companies like Amazon and Facebook. What’s even more important is that these airspace property rights should be treated equivalent to the rights that landowners enjoy in surface land. Such laws will not only help property owners ensure their own privacy, but will also accelerate progress of the drone industry.