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article imageInside the future of drone technology Special

By Holly L. Walters     Aug 15, 2015 in Technology
Drone technology traces its roots all the way back to 1849 when they started out as remote controlled airplanes. Major advances have been made since that time, and experts believe that drone usage is about to skyrocket.
Although most people immediately think of military applications for drones, the reality is that they can be utilized for a wide range of non-military applications varying from tracking endangered species to delivering packages.
To help get a better view of what the future of this technology has in store for us, we turned to robotics expert Robert Loos, who is the founder of Robotics Today. Loos painted an exciting picture for us when asked what to expect from the next phase of drones.
He stated that “some of the commercial uses for drones, which are sometimes referred to as UAV's (unmanned aerial vehicles), will be aerial surveillance, pipeline inspection, surveying/exploration, aerial photography, environmental monitoring, livestock monitoring and search and rescue.” Loos also predicts that drones, could eventually be put to work transporting cargo and equipment.
This process “could be useful during calamities or after disasters bringing firefighting equipment or first aid relief, food or water.” In other words, the same technology that the military uses in battle zones also has enormous potential as a humanitarian tool.
Speaking of the military, Loos believes that drones will become an increasingly common and popular tool for all service branches. He additionally predicts that the ever-increasing number of drones will feature smaller versions of this technology. Loos credits this strong surge in drone usage with “the development of the quadcopter UAVs.”
The robotics enthusiast elaborated that quadcopter UAVs have made “the possibilities become even greater since they don’t need a runway for take-off and landing and are able to hover in a fixed position, [thereby] making them ideal to be used in a rural environment.”
Loos also pointed out that countries beyond the U.S. and U.K. are beginning to embrace military drones. “According to a recent annual report of the Pentagon on Chinese military power, China is building an army of several thousand UAVs for military purposes.” This army is estimated at 40,000 drones.
With this increase in military and commercial drone usage, it is important to carefully consider the potential ethical issues that should help determine any applicable legal restrictions. When asked to provide any military ethical concerns, Loos said, “Artificial Intelligence can be a good thing if a certain degree of Artificial Intelligence is used to make the machines more efficient. Unfortunately there are plans to create UAVs with a high level of autonomy that are able to search for, select and destroy (human) targets without human interventions...These developments could cause a new worldwide arms race.”
Loos also has concerns about the proper commercial and personal usage of drones, including potential privacy and safety implications: “Unethical use could result in making pictures or videos of people in their home, invading the privacy of people. But what happens when an engine fails, catches fire or if the drone hits an obstacle in-flight? Does it crash into someone’s home or injure a person perhaps?”
In order to help avoid these issues, he would like to see safety criteria and licensing put in place for commercial purposes. When it comes to personal drones, Loos believes it would be best to handle drones like model airplanes. This means they would only be allowed to be used in a home environment and would need to meet a specific set of criteria. Additionally, anything going beyond these guidelines would be restricted to specific designated areas.
The issue of safety came up again while discussing Amazon’s delivery drone concept. “I think there could be a market for it, but mainly for people living in remote areas or companies in industrial areas where the risk of injuring people or property is less.” Loos does believe Amazon's idea could be viable, but he hopes that these services would be strictly regulated for safety purposes.
He suggested that there may need to be “predetermined routes or airways,” “designated landing spots” and “corridors designated for flight.” This would make Amazon’s drones follow a set of safety procedures that are similar to airplanes.
Overall, Loos believes that one of the biggest challenges the drone industry faces is the lack of timely regulations. New developments continue to outpace any type of regulatory oversight, and this has led to issues such as a homeowner recently shooting down a drone that he became convinced was spying on his daughter. Loos indicated that proper rules and regulations could help minimize these situations.
Interestingly, some of the latest technology involving drones is dedicated to disabling them. A good example of this is the usage of sound waves to knock drones out of the sky. The Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is behind this concept, and it could conceivably be used for military operations and to stop malfunctioning drones from flying off course.
The shape and size of drones have been evolving for years. One of these examples is demonstrated by the ARCUS project where drones would actually have arms. Loos is a proponent of this novel technology because it could “help build (high) structures in difficult environments and make them even more versatile.”
Ultimately, drones have the potential to be used in many ways that could benefit mankind. Delivering first aid and food supplies to areas that have been hit by a natural disaster is just one of the numerous exciting options that have already been explored, and there is no reason to believe that drones will not be used to further humanitarian causes in the future.
At the same time, we need to be realistic about their military applications. Drones can help save the lives of soldiers, but any miscalculations can also put innocent civilians at risk. Hopefully this ethical quandary will continue to be not only considered but actively worked on in order to push developers toward making drone products that are more accurate and easier to control.
More about Drones, drone technology, UAVs, Uav, military drones
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