Drones – Eye or Pie In The Sky?
A camera on wings – the positives and negatives related to workplace and due diligence issues.
Drones – the small, remote controlled aircraft that can be outfitted with high definition cameras & data recorders – are slowly edging their way into the inventory of investigators offering due diligence, business intelligence and other services as a way to supplement their “feet on the ground”. Yet concerns, including financial, technical, ethical, moral, political & legislative, will likely weigh on their adoption as a mainstream business risk mitigation tool for years to come.
For starters, there’s still a very scattershot legislative environment for unmanned airborne vehicles. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration so far does not allow private use of drones, but Congress established a 2015 deadline for the FAA to do so. In December 2013, the FAA authorized drones for private use, and a few weeks later, they established several test areas for drones.
There is also the stigma attached to drone use that could create a potentially crippling backlash if
their use became broader public knowledge. Wide use of drones may spark a flashpoint for ethical & moral argument. Large financial firms are hesitant about even the remotest connection to drones. For example, in mid-2013, six of Britain’s largest financial services firms began to re-examine their ties to BT after it was publicly disclosed that BT was supplying equipment to outfit a U.S. drone command center in the Horn of Africa.
While the average price of drones has dropped significantly, and simultaneously their ease of use and range has improved dramatically, there are still a variety of pricing and technical concerns limiting their effectiveness. Drone require expensive infrastructure to receive, process, review and analyze data in real time. And even with such goods in place, anyone trying to operate a drone for investigative purposes would likely experience the same information overload that U.S. intelligence suffered. Experts say that there was so much video information coming out of Afghanistan from drones, yet the military was unable to use all of the information yielded by huge amounts of drone intelligence.
European authorities are less skittish than their U.S. counterparts, with about 1,000 drones and counting, now licensed for commercial use in about a dozen European countries. Drone makers have since 2012 been targeting Asian countries as well. Yet there are outliers on every continent that would limit drones’ legal use. Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina and Virginia already have some laws on the books either limiting police use or civilian use of drones, or both, and some 40 other U.S. states are considering some form of regulating drones. Cities are also stepping up. In Chicago, for instance, there’s a moratorium on drones until 2018. There’s even an ordinance in Deer Trail, Colorado allowing residents to shoot down drones on sight. While European and Asian nations are more accepting, there are still outliers, such as Japan, that aren’t quite as open to private drone use yet.
But adoption of this technology is ongoing, regardless. Just as GPS systems were controversial 10 years ago, yet today are available not only on cars, but all smart phones & other electronic devices too.
New Zealand is one nation where commercial and private drone use is beginning to take off, and 10 EU countries may be following suit. Commercial use by the likes of Pizza Hut, which has proposed using drones for delivering perishable foods in the U.K., and Amazon, which is considering the same effort, are the typical first steps that could help soften concerns and set the ground work for additional commercial use. And among the burgeoning commercial users are oil companies, insurance companies, investors, attorneys, investigators, and farmers too. Firms already using satellite imagery to track infrastructure, crops and other issues are turning to drones for the up close shots that satellite imagery can’t provide. And they say traders and investors have become eager clients of drones as they seek an edge over competitors. Insurers may be turning to drones as well as a way of risk assessment & and risk mitigation: for example verifying whether a company actually exists or whether physical infrastructure is available (such as roads) in rural areas and emerging growth markets.
So drones for now may be a bit of pie in the sky; but they are definitely a business management & risk mitigation tool to expect to see more and more in the near future.
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