With its spiralling glass and steel atrium and myriad overlaying bridges, the European Parliament might not be the most obvious place to fly a drone but that is exactly what we did at a conference on safe and innovative drone applications organised by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Gabriele Preuss and Marian-Jean Marinescu in Brussels.
The event could not have been more timely with Parliament debating a revision to the EU’s general aviation framework and the recent publication of a ‘prototype’ drone regulation by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). I was honoured to join a panel with MEPs Marinescu and Preuss, Filip Cornelius of the European Commission and Luc Tytgat of EASA for what at times proved to be both a lively and candid exchange of views. Discussion quickly centred on the need for a flexible and future-proof legal framework that would enable innovation, market and job growth and ensure safety, security and privacy for Europe’s citizens. The prototype regulation is a clear step in that direction.
As David Hoffman and I laid out in an op-ed in New Europe, there are significant innovation and societal benefits provided by drones and we discussed some of these with the stakeholders present. An application that appeared to resonate with the audience was search and rescue. With thermal and infrared camera payloads, drones can be flown when people cannot visually see or where it is not safe to go. In Amatrice, Italy, an EU funded project team successfully deployed drones as part of a post-earthquake response team and we anticipate drones to be increasingly used in this context.
My colleague Daniel Gurdan, co-founder of Ascending Technologies, a part of Intel, made an excellent demonstration of our collision avoidance and redundancy technologies. In the first of a kind event, he flew Firefly and Falcon 8 drones to demonstrate these critical safety features. It is one thing to talk to policy-makers about these technologies, it is quite another for them to see it and experience it. Daniel was also able to show that the same algorithms that turn imagery collected by drones into data to sense and avoid obstacles can discard non-relevant raw image data that could identify people or private places. As Paula Bruening has already pointed out in her blog, respecting individual privacy is of paramount importance for public acceptance of drones. People need to trust the technology.
For our part, we need to continue to make drones safer and smarter. We will make technology advances in collision avoidance and connectivity (powerful low latency connectivity and communications capability is critical) which, in the longer term, will enable operations like multiple drones per pilot and safe flight beyond line of sight. We are working with our industry partners to create a robust and collaborative ecosystem made up of hardware, software, services and standards that work together to foster innovation and bring safe, scalable, and cost-effective solutions to real-world problems.
We congratulate the EU Institutions for their carefully considered and thoughtfully crafted European rules for drones and for their consultative approach with industry and civil society. We will continue to provide input to the legal framework as it develops.
Watch a short video summarizing the event.
Pictures © European Union 2016