Drones, Deliveries, and Data
—Estimated Arrival – Now. Are We Ready?—
By Anonymous | June 18, 2021
It’s no secret that automated robotics has the ability to propel our nation into a future of prosperity. Industries such as Agriculture, Infrastructure, Defense, Medicine, Transportation, the list goes on; the opportunities for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, in particular, to transform our world are plentiful and by the day we fly closer and closer to the sun. However, the inherent privacy related and ethical concerns surrounding this technology need to be addressed before they take to the skies. Before we tackle this, let’s set some context.
An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (commonly known as a UAV or Drone) can come in many shapes and sizes, all without an onboard human pilot and with a variety of configurations tailored to its specific use. You may have seen a drone like the one below (left) taking photos at your local park or have heard of its larger cousin the Predator B (right) which is a part of the United States Air Force UAV fleet.
The use of drone technology in United States foreign affairs is a heavily debated topic that won’t be discussed today. Instead, let’s focus on a UAV application closer to home: Drone delivery.
There are several companies that have ascended the ranks of the autonomous drone delivery race namely Amazon, UPS, Zipline, and the SF based startup Xwing who hopes to deliver not just packages, but even people to their desired destination. Aerial delivery isn’t constricted by land traffic and therefore can take the shortest route between two points. If implemented correctly the resulting increase in transportation efficiency could be revolutionary. As recently as August 2020, legislature has been passed allowing for special use of UAVs beyond line-of-sight flight, which was the previous FAA regulation. This exposes the first issue that drone delivery brings. If not controlled by a human in a line-of-sight context, then the drone necessarily must use GPS, visual, thermal, and ultrasonic sensors to navigate the airspace safely. According to Amazon Prime air, their drone contains a multitude of sensors that allow “…stereo vision in parallel with sophisticated AI algorithms trained to detect people and animals from above.” Although it’s an impressive technological feat, any application where people are identified using camera vision needs to be handled with the utmost care. Consider the situation where a person turns off location services on their device as a personal privacy choice. A delivery drone has the capability to identify that person without their knowledge and combined with on board GPS data, that person has been localized without the use of their personal device or consent. This possible future could be waiting for us if we do not create strong legislature with clear language regarding the collection of data outside what is necessary for a delivery.
There’s another shortcoming with UAV delivery that doesn’t have to do with privacy: our existing infrastructure. 5G cellular networks are increasing in size and robustness around the nation which is promising for the future of autonomous delivery as more data can be transferred to and from the UAV. However, this reveals a potential for exclusion as the lack of 5G coverage may leave areas of this nation unreachable by drone due to the UAV flying blind or from running out of power. According to Amazon, the current iteration of Prime Air drone has a 15-mile range which leaves the question, “Is this technology really helping those who need it?”
It’s not all bad however, drone deliveries have the potential to create real, positive change in our world especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. Privacy forward drone tech would help reduce emissions by both using electric motors and by allowing people to order items from the comfort of their own home in a timely manner, negating a drive to the store. It’ll be exciting to see what the future holds for UAV technology, and we must stay vigilant to ensure our privacy rights aren’t thrown to the wind.
AI, 5G, MEC and more: New technology is fueling the future of drone delivery. https://www.verizon.com/about/news/new-technology-fueling-drone-delivery
Drones Of All Shapes And Sizes Will Be Common In Our Sky By 2030, Here’s Why, With Ben Marcus Of AirMap.https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelgale/2021/06/16/drones-of-all-shapes-and-sizes-will-be-common-in-our-sky-by-2030-heres-why-with-ben-marcus-of-airmap/
A drone program taking flight. https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/transportation/a-drone-program-taking-flight
Federal Aviation Administration. https://www.faa.gov/