Drones have potential to do far more good than harm

Drones have potential to do far more good than harm
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The windows rattle as a strong northern wind whips against the house. It’s been dark for two hours and the winter night has taken hold. Brittle trees sway stiffly. 

“Have you talked to my Dad? He went hunting today and isn’t home yet," a woman worriedly asks her husband.

“He called to say he was running a little late, but gosh...that must have been three hours ago," the husband responds.

“I’m worried, I’m going to call the sheriff.”

At the sheriff’s office, they initiate a call to their search and rescue team. They grab their gear and throw a drone in the truck. Attached to the bottom of it is an infrared camera that reads heat signatures.


The sheriff’s deputies get to the scene, assemble their team, scent the dogs and launch their drone. Thirty five minutes later, much to the relief of his family, they’ve located the missing hunter. The drone has a fix on his exact location.


This isn’t a hypothetical situation. This isn’t a “what-if” scenario. This happened just a few days ago in a Virginia suburb. Commercial drones have the potential to save lives not just by helping rescue lost people but by keeping people off of roofs, off the sides of bridges or from dangling precariously while they do inspections. The list is long and varied. 

The commercial drone of today doesn’t have much in common with it’s militarized brethren. Like so many technologies that have come before it, the use cases have matured past military applications. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) used to inform missiles where to go, now they tell your Uber where to go.

The internet used to be a redundant communication medium in case of nuclear war; now it’s a treasure trove of cat pictures and “Like” buttons. So it goes with drones.

Because of their origin story, it’s easy to be alarmist about this new technology. If we referred to the internet as the “Nuclear Communication System” or GPS as “Missile Guidance Technology,” it would surely raise some eyebrows. But the reality is that drones have the potential to do far more to benefit humanity than to hurt it.

Moreover, calling for more regulations might seem like a good solution, but they’re only going to affect people who follow the regulations — something bad actors typically don’t do. Stop me if you’ve heard that argument somewhere else before.

To its credit, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has gracefully played a very difficult hand. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office is working diligently to create common-sense legislation that preserves the already stellar safety record of the national airspace in America, while allowing this new technology to begin to thrive.

If regulations leave the federal purview, the operating environment for commercial drones could be so complicated that it might stifle the industry in the United States, driving innovators and innovation outside of our borders. The very thing we don’t want. 

The sad, simple fact remains that if someone wants to cause harm, there are a lot of options with more “bang for your buck” than drones. Using their limited potential to cause harm as the basis for knee-jerk legislation is misguided. The drone industry has taken the lessons of the tech industry, the aviation industry and the media industry to start self-regulating.

Behind the scenes, drone companies are already working on solutions to things like identification and tracking because we realize that making it easy to discern between the good guys and the bad guys is going to be of paramount importance in the future.

There are lots of things that are of great benefit to humanity but unfortunately can be used for malice when put in the wrong hands. In some cases, it’s possible that drones could be one of those. However, commercial drones have the potential to change and improve the way entire industries run their business.

The net effect will be safer and more efficient work for millions of people. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and legislate away the opportunity of a generation.

Joshua Ziering is the co-founder and chief pilot of venture-backed Kittyhawk and a founding member of the FAA Unmanned Aviation Safety Team. Ziering is an FAA Part 107 certificate holder and has been flying all manner of unmanned aircraft for over 15 years. As an accomplished flyer, Josh has flown professionally for the NHL, ABC Television and various manned-aviation airshows.