(A DRONELIFE editorial.) A recent Brookings Institute headline is a striking example of the public perception problem of the drone industry. Death From Above: How Criminal Organizations’ Use of Drones Threatens Americans is actually an article on the growing opioid crisis: but the authors blame our current problems first on COVID, then on fentanyl, then on a breakdown in international relations – Finally, landing on drones as the greatest threat to our nation across the border.
“Relatively small, synthetic opioid loads delivered by drones can kill hundreds, maybe thousands,” the article said. “And swarming drone deliveries in masses could just be devastating.” (Note: “Swarms of drone shipments” are just one potential – they actually didn’t happen.)
The point the article is trying to make – that counter-UAS technology should be part of border security – is perfectly reasonable. (The author’s suggestion to less completely ban drones along the border, but I’m not going to argue that policy in this editorial.) Blaming drones for crime, rather than blaming criminals for crime, is the real problem of this article: it doesn’t make it Just One The public perception problem for the drone industry, which negatively impacts many of the life-saving and positive uses for commercial drones, does not attack the root cause of drug smuggling, violence, terrorism or other complex societal problems.
Technology isn’t the problem. Criminals are the problem.
As the editor of DRONELIFE, I am not unfamiliar with the many ways drones are used illegally. Please do not feel obliged to email me letting me know about the nefarious or even annoying uses of drones – many of them I am already receiving. I am not saying that drone technology is always good: I am saying that Drones are a neutral tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. The operator, not the drone, determines how the drone is used.
Laws should focus on the crime, not the method: Focusing on the method merely encourages creativity and creates a myriad of unintended consequences for legitimate drone operators. Drug trafficking, difficult international relations with neighboring countries and the opioid crisis existed long before drones became widely available. Every new method of smuggling that criminals develop has proven to be a mere Hydra head: for each one you cut off, two more heads grow. Eliminate drones completely and criminals will continue to bring drugs into the country and quickly find new ways to get rid of old ones.
Why it’s bad for communities to blame drones for crimes
Shifting the enforcement focus to a single technology isn’t particularly useful – and the collateral damage is significant. It is not just the drone industry that will suffer if this way of characterizing drones as “bad” or “criminal” persists. The reason we believe so strongly at DRONELIFE is because we strongly believe that drone technology can, in some cases, be critical to helping the majority in a community. The supply of drones to seniors during the pandemic has shown that it can truly protect vulnerable people and enable them to source supplies without exposure to the virus. Drone technology can make a significant contribution to switching the electricity on more quickly if a network fails. Drone technology can protect people from climbing cranes, repelling communication towers, or having to go to oil and gas rigs so frequently. Law enforcement agencies need drone technology to protect their officials and their communities. Firefighters need drones to limit forest fire destruction and save lives. Urban air mobility and passenger drones are on the move that can potentially transform the urban environment. In places where security is important, such as along our borders, drones have proven to be incredibly effective as a surveillance tool.
There are so many life-saving ways drones can be used, and so many economic and societal benefits, that it would be irresponsible to delay their implementation or prevent their use in much of the country due to negative public perception and perception Risk that criminals will start using them too. They will be safe. Criminals will use drones like the ones they used trucks, cars, boats, planes and smartphones: this is a reality that we face. Focusing on drones only distracts us from solving the real problem and costs us a lot in the meantime.
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.
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