Some of the riskiest jobs in America involve climbing on rooftops, crawling into caves or capturing essential aerial images of fires, contaminated areas or natural disasters. These are all tasks that could be handled much more safely and protect workers when performed by lightweight drones. Drones like the DJI Phantom, which weighs under three pounds, can allow us to capture the information we need without endangering the people whose job it is to collect that data.
Exploring Concerns About Drones
A 2014 survey by Pew Research revealed that two-thirds of respondents thought that private or commercial drones allowed in U.S. airspace could cause harm. Privacy advocates worry that drones will be used by businesses to collect private information or that drones will be used to spy on neighbors. However, like many technologies, there is much more opportunity for drones to benefit society than to cause harm.
Using Drones for Good
The fact that some bad actors use drones in inappropriate ways does not neutralize the good that drones do every day. Drones can make it possible to collect data that would otherwise be inaccessible and to make everyday jobs safer.
For instance, drones help keep people on the ground when they would normally have to climb on top of a building as part of their daily work. Each year, 30,000 people are injured and 600 die due to high falls. Roof inspectors and other professionals currently need to get up on roofs to visually assess them and make decisions about repairs. With the use of technologies like drones, many of these hands-on inspections could be performed remotely, which significantly cuts down the risks.
Another example of where drones can greatly improve safety is with power line inspections. Electrical workers dealing with high and medium voltage power line systems hold one of the country’s top ten most dangerous jobs. Just this month, a helicopter crashed in Maryland while performing a routine power line inspection. Luckily, nobody was killed, but it resulted in three injures, a brush fire, and suspension of service along Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor Line between D.C. and Philadelphia. Enterprises are expected to invest over $16 billion in drone technology by 2024 to make this job safer and more cost-effective.
The FAA is working with drone operators to construct regulations that balance an individual’s need for privacy and safety with the many beneficial ways that drones can be used. Some of these regulations include ensuring that if you are operating within 5 miles of an airport you must file flight plans before taking off. Also, all drone operators must register their drones with the FAA and keep their paperwork on-hand when their drones are in the air.
By continuing to consider the good that drones can offer, we can work toward reasonable use that protects from harm but gives us access to the benefits of this technology. It is important to continue to assess the areas for caution and the many benefits and then create policy that works well for everyone involved.