Drones in the news again this week, this time as a result of a manufacturer changing its rules/process for overriding geo-fences.
These controls are used to try and ensure that drones do not stray into, and cannot be used, in high risk areas (whether that be from a safety or security perspective).
The steps taken this week hand control of overriding these directly to the user who, if screen shots are to be believed, will have to tick a couple of boxes to say they have permission to use their drone there, and understand what they're doing.
Who should control it
The interesting debate here is 'who should control their use'. On one side of the debate users are clearly keen to be able to use their drones with as few a restrictions as possible. Debates can probably be had as to the suitability of some geo-fenced areas, but the other side of the debate looks at the wider public interest in safety and security.
The steps taken by this manufacturer should, in theory, create an record of those who have overridden the controls - clearly of potential interest to police and other security services in the event of an issue arising.
But some broader questions do need to be considered:
- should the user have ultimate control over use of their drone in areas that have been deemed to have possible safety or security risks? (noting that some areas will remain completely out of bounds).
- who is responsible if something happens? The end user? If so, even though they ticked a box, do they really understand all the permutations of their actions?
- are any steps taken to verify the information the user provides to the manufacturer?
- what is to stop someone providing false or fraudulent information to the manufacturer (and thereby nullifying the benefit of the auditable record)?
It's a healthy debate and an interesting one when you look at the analogy of the car industry used in the article. I'm not sure the parallels are always entirely helpful though as there are often additional controls on the ground preventing cars travelling into restricted areas.
So the conversations will rumble on, and regulations will continue to adapt as both commercial and private use of drones develops over the coming months and years.
I'm sure we've not heard the end of the geo-fence debate.
One drones expert raised concerns, suggesting it should be up to regulators - rather than a manufacturer - to decide who bypasses the no-fly limitation.