Even if the alleged drone attack on Venezuelan President Maduro proves to be a canard, it stands to elevate the conversation regarding this new technology. In case you missed the news, the head of state was possibly the subject of an airborne assassination attempt over the weekend. Usually reliable sources offered an alternative narrative, but all the eye-catching first reports mentioned two drones laden with explosives.
All this serves to highlight just how little planning or regulation revolves around this nascent technology. A quick scan of popular drone hobbyist websites shows that:
- Small consumer drones can carry payloads of 1-2 pounds for 25-27 minutes on a full electric charge.
- Heavy lift drones – those that can take payloads of 15 – 22 pounds – are pricier than most consumer options at $5,000 to $12,000. Flight times shrink as the weight increases, down to 5 -10 minutes for the heaviest loads.
- Users can operate drones with either line of sight controls or via GPS-specific instructions.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see the problem here. Everything mentioned above is available on Amazon. The nature of any hazardous payload is almost irrelevant. The delivery mechanism is widely available.
We went hunting for the latest information on what lawmakers/regulators are doing to lessen the risks here. Here are summaries of three items:
#1. From Wired magazine last year: “This Brilliant Plan Could Stop Drone Terrorism. Too Bad It’s Illegal”. A US company called Black Sage has been developing a combination radar/camera system to identify incoming malicious drones and either jam their controls or reprogram them to return to their origin. The illegal part – in the US at least – is that this goes counter to a whole slew of domestic laws. And simply shooting them down isn’t an option either. Drones are aircraft, so playing skeet with them is a big no-no.
So how does Black Sage survive? Plenty of other countries allow their technology.
#2. UK security/human rights consultants Open Briefing published in 2016 what has become a widely cited resource on the topic of drone security, and it specifically outlined the sort of attack that may have occurred in Venezuela. They offered up a range of potential solutions, from registration and tech-enabled geo-fencing, to limiting the payloads of commercially available drones and requiring heavy-lift drone owners to store them securely.
Worth noting: large drone makers do code in GPS-enabled geo-fencing around obvious areas like the US White House. At the same time, other makers do not, and some drone software is open source and therefore easy enough to alter.
#3. Also from Wired, a quick update on the topic in the wake of this weekend’s events: “The Explosive-Carrying Drones in Venezuela Won’t Be The Last”. The bottom line: regulating and protecting against this technology is not going to be easy.
Full article here: https://www.wired.com/story/venezuela-drones-explosives-maduro-threat/
The upshot to all this: the collective mood of both markets and society regarding the risk/reward tradeoffs of technology has shifted in 2018. Everyone from Intel to FedEx and Amazon are working to develop this technology. Properly used, it could save billions of dollars from corporate bottom lines and develop new markets as well. But just as we have seen with social media, bad actors can weaponize a new technology in ways its creators never imagined.