Thomas Frey, the Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, believes there will be over one billion drones in operation throughout the world by 2030.
“In the future drones are going to have multiple capabilities, so let’s not think of them as little flying cameras,” he said. “They can also roll on the ground, they can stick to the side of a building, float in the river, dive under water … they can climb a tree and attach themselves like a parasite to the side of a plane. A driverless car is a drone.”
Drones are currently being used to deliver goods and humanitarian aid as well as combat climate change and monitor coral reefs. Despite their numerous uses, Frey believes we can’t even imagine how prevalent drones will be in the future.
“While most have confined their thinking to drones with photo and video capability, they can include everything from sensors to robotic arms, video projectors, speakers, lights, x-rays, weapons, bombs, and several dozen spy technologies only the NSA knows how to use,” Frey said. “One of my recent grand epiphanies had to do with how Moore’s Law, the exponential doubling of capacity every two years, would affect drones. With typical electro-mechanical advancements in the physical world, there is perhaps a 2X-4X improvement every decade. But once an industry transitions into the digital space, where Moore’s Law shifts industries into the exponential growth fast lane, smart technology can slingshot its way up the improvements ladder far faster.”
Despite their potential for aiding humanity, Frey believes people should be also be cautious when it comes to drone technology.
“If we assume that someday over 50,000 drones will fly over Brisbane, what’s the responsibility of that city?” he said. “The same drone that can deliver a package can also deliver bombs or spy on your kids… and now we’re starting to see weaponized drones—who has the right or the obligation to shoot a drone out of the air?”
Des Butler, a Queensland University of Technology law professor, says legislation governing privacy, which impacts drone use, is outdated.
“Our privacy laws are piecemeal collections of common laws and statute laws, none of which provides a perfect coverage for people’s privacy,” Butler said. “Some state surveillance laws apply to optical surveillance devices, such as a camera on a drone… but in Queensland our laws only go so far as listening devices.”
Earlier this year, a woman bathing in the nude in her backyard was appalled to find a drone flying overhead.
“Even that lady with the best [privacy] regime in Australia didn’t have a lot of recourse because if she’s going to take any action about the drone then she needs to know who the operator is,” Butler said. “Or at least the police need to have some way of tracking them down.”
The Queensland Government, however, has begun to address the challenges of effectively regulating drones. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has asked industry leaders to help shape the policies put forth before congress.
“Your insights and input will also help to strengthen our strategy and ensure we maximise this industry’s full and evolving potential,” she said.
“Having tens of thousands of drones swarming over most metro areas on a daily basis may seem annoying at first, but the combination of new businesses, jobs, information, data analysis, new career paths, and revenue streams will quickly turn most naysayers into strong industry advocates,” Frey concluded. “That said, there will be many problems to overcome during the next few years. Noise, pollution, mid-air crashes, peeping drone issues, terrorist activities, smugglers and more will cause many to question their value. But this is a highly transformative industry, solving problems nearly as quickly as they’re created, giving us capabilities we never knew we’d ever want. Personally, I can’t wait for this amazing new world to come to fruition.”