I think we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that drone safety is on the radar. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a long-term roadmap [PDF] delineating the specific requirements for the use of domestic drones. Drones are the talk of the town — they often show up in the news in a variety of contexts. There are, of course, the very serious US military drones used in attacks like those in Pakistan [PDF] and Yemen — attacks that human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say are causing unjustified tragedies and unaccounted-for legal violations. But some are also promoting drones for their convenience, such as “pizza delivery drones” and inexpensive underwater exploration drones.

What exactly is a drone, you ask? In a nutshell, “[d]rones are efficient, small, flexible, and not bound by gravity…operated remotely” robots. They have a countless number of positive qualities. In fact, besides simply being convenient and useful (imagine if every restaurant had the delivery speed and accuracy of Jimmy John’s!), drones can revolutionize our way of living.

Commercial and recreational drones can make a big impact. They can lessen urban congestion, decrease carbon emissions, and promote our health and standard of living. But the question remains: are they safe?

The FAA roadmap is designed to produce a certification process for existing aircraft and certification guidelines for drone pilots. Then the agency will begin to work on rules for commercial drones. These are much-needed steps, as the industry is quite popular and lucrative. Within five years of granting commercial drones widespread access to the sky, the FAA estimates that approximately 7,500 of them will fill the air.

While the roadmap addresses an important concern, it does not address privacy issues. The agency is well-versed in technology, but it admits it has little of the expertise needed to address privacy concerns or regulate potential surveillance flights. Should the certification process begin before some measures have been taken to address privacy concerns? Who will be granted access to the skies? What if you don’t want drones whirring around your house or neighborhood? How will you even know if one is in the area?

How do you feel about commercial drones buzzing around you and your property, potentially invading your privacy? The vehicles’ technology might contain safety restrictions to prevent it from physically falling on you or hurting you, but what can be done to address other dangers, such as providing access and information to identity thieves, stalkers, murderers…?

–Sonal Patel

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