By Jennifer Mulveny, Global Policy Group, Australia
Although the media buzz from Intel’s first public Drone 100 show that lit up Sydney’s skies for five nights this month is fading, the promise of drones to not only improve lives, but save them, grows stronger every day.
In tandem with the lightshow, Intel hosted a panel of experts on “Drones for Good” in Sydney to discuss the challenges and opportunities for drones in Australia and throughout the world. Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop proclaimed in her opening keynote that the “age of the drone has well and truly arrived.”
Minister Bishop and other panellists focused on the amazing capability that drones have to save lives in a way that no other technology can—with early, fast and accurate responses to everything from natural disasters to dangerous utility repairs.
More than 30 Australians die each year by falling from heights while at work. Over 95 American workers died between 2004 and 2013 from inspecting mobile phone towers. Drones can keep these and other people safely on the ground while doing real time repairs to towers, bridges and buildings, ports and airplanes so that these kinds of statistics become a thing of the past.
Minister Bishop’s Department is spearheading a humanitarian trial using drones as an innovative first response to emergencies in the Pacific region. This can include rapidly mapping the affected area, identifying victims trapped in and on top of buildings, and delivering life saving supplies in real-time. Because of this capability and more, she urged the government not to overregulate, but rather let this innovation thrive.
Little Rippers is a company at the forefront of more search and rescue trials in Australia, starting with the ocean. Over 270 people drowned in Australia in 2015, and the founder of Little Rippers, Kevin Weldon, told the panel audience how he was inspired by the role that drones played in saving over 5000 lives during Hurricane Katrina more than a decade ago. Motivated by a passion to save lives, Kevin and his team are aggressively advancing their technology in Australia with the goal of using drones to rescue people in the sea, mountains and remote bush areas.
Other panellists shared their experiences on ongoing trials in the areas of mail delivery and mapping farmland and mining terrain. Marcus Ehrlich of Ninox Robotics is focused on early responses to bushfires in Australia, including mapping vulnerable areas before fires are started. He predicts that Australia will lead the world in drone applications because “we have a large land mass with scattered settlements, a wealthy population with high technogical uptake, and a regulator that understands the industry.”
An official representing that regulator, Australia’s Civil Aviation and Safety Administration (CASA), also joined the panel and praised the close collaboration between government and industry in shaping drone regulations so that drones can do good and stay safe.
These unprecedented life saving benefits notwithstanding, engagement with policy makers around the world will be critical to making sure that drone regulations remain flexible. That’s not to say that concerns about safety and privacy should not be addressed, indeed they should, and Intel is leading the way.
As Anil Nanduri of Intel’s New Devices Group explained during the panel disussion, Intel is already ahead of the curve on answering drone safety concerns by engineering and promoting state-of-the-art “sense and avoid” technology and recommeding that collision avoidance be a centerpiece for unmanned aircraft policies in any country.
On the privacy front, Intel is working with other companies to promote a voluntary and industry-led framework for the collection, sharing and use of any data aquired by a drone. We also are encouraging governments to not restrict the use of drones due to privacy concerns, but rather target the undesirable behavior through existing laws that govern crimes such as trespassing or harassment.
Our work is far from done, but we mustn’t let privacy or safety concerns stall the extraordinary potential of drones to save lives as soon as possible. Let Australia be a model of private sector partnership with the government to make this a reality.