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Management consulting. Product. Strategy.

  • Writer's pictureYoel Frischoff

Could We Eever Contain Drones?

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Regulatory and Technology Pathways

A drone flying on a background of trees, sky
A drone flying

The disturbing news from Gatwick Airport in the UK shed light on the security and safety risk Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - "Drones" as they are popularly called - pose to critical infrastructures, as well as to the privacy and property of the public.


Emerging technologies and threats

As with many emerging technologies, regulation lags behind: It takes time until the usage patterns and associated risks emerge, it takes time until unwitting or malevolent offenders "discover" whatever mishap, dangerous behavior, or intended assaults are possible with such technology.

Consider the auto industry: A combination of public interest, research, and regulation helped develop proactive and passive safety measures, against incidents that were previously considered "bad luck" or "fate". Reinforcements, restraints, energy absorption passive safety measures were introduced along the years, with complementing road technology features - cutting significantly traffic related deaths and injuries.

Active measures, such as Mobileye's technology now help drivers assess their situation early, gaining critical reaction time, and all the rave is about autonomous driving, which poses a new risk paradigm, moral choices, and responsibility.

Laws and regulation have followed technological advance in this sector, too, and no doubt they will play a significant role in its development.


The drone industry - Rapid growth

Drones are being sold in record numbers and taking to the skies. The FAA projects that there will be more than 1.2 million drones by the end of 2018 in the US alone.

The industry has responded to the massive demand, and is growing nicely, with 40% Year on year growth in 2017 on track to reach $82B by 2025.

Projected annual revenue of the drone industry by 2025
Annual revenue projections

The civilian drone segment is dominated by Chinese companies. Chinese drone manufacturer DJI alone has 75% of civilian-market share in 2017 with $11 billion forecast global sales in 2020, followed by French company Parrot with $110m and US company 3DRobotics with $21.6m in 2014.

As of March 2018, more than one million UAVs (878,000 hobbyist and 122,000 commercial) were registered with the US FAA. 2018 NPD point to consumers increasingly purchasing drones with more advanced features with 33 percent growth in both the $500+ and $1000+ market segments.

Drones: Inherent Risks

What risks could drones possibly pose? Legally considered "model aircraft", it proved rather difficult to submit them to regulation. Definitions such as weight, flight height ruled classification and licensing requirements.

However, even the restrictions imposed in recent regulation cannot stop drone operators from inadvertently flying them in dangerous zones, such as above airstrips, chemical plants - or even above residential areas.

As in many cases, the human factor is the weakest link, as shows this actual collision, and the latest incident in Gatwick Airport - Shuttering it for days on end, delaying tens of thousands of passengers and diverting incoming flights.

In a side note this latter incident, still without credible suspects arrested, would be consigned to everlasting mystery, if not past week's news, just a few days later, announcing the airport's sale to Vinci group, with impact on ticket price unannounced.

Jokes aside, there is clearly a problem of prevention, control, and risk mitigation of drone flights, that will only aggravate over time, with the expected proliferation of consumer grade and commercial drones.

Lessons learned from other vulnerable industries

Consider banknotes. Made of essentially printed paper, they have long been susceptible to counterfeit.

Money as a target for counterfeit

All the more so with the advent of color laser printers. So, could you just scan and print your preferred denomination?

Well, it appears, for some time now, that you cannot. Not anonymously as you'd wish, anyway.