“Drone Battle Lines” – Chuck Chamberlain

This article is the author’s personal viewpoint.  It is a follow-up to the Postal Vision 2020 “The Drone Makers” article of January 13, 2014 predicting that drones would disrupt today’s norms and that a broad range of innovative uses would be forthcoming

New 2015 Personal Drone Market Predictions:

  • Move over gun control… here comes drone control.
  • We lost the open range in the 19th century due to land fencing.
  • We lose the open sky in the 21st century due to geofencing.
  • Security rights and privacy rights must succeed together or they will fail individually.

While drone innovation has surged worldwide, innovative new drone use in the US has been slow due to the FAA.  However, the FAA’s cautionary approach towards opening drones use in the United States is well justified in our post-911 era when the Nation has little appetite for enabling adverse unintended consequences such as the creation of new tools for terrorists or the unleashing of a tech enabled threat to civil liberties.

Here are some thoughts to consider in our journey of discovery in how to best manage and exploit drone use in the United States:

First, there are many drone use pros and cons to consider.

PROS for Drones-page-001

Second, aerial drones are not the only mode of drones to study and the debates around one type of drone should be considered when studying other drones.  There will be pros and cons associated with drones in the air, in the ground, on the ground, in space and above and below water.  Our study should be open to allow transfer of knowledge and the harmonization of the operating environments where possible.  You know that a multi-modal drone will be inevitable and that frequently threats will be persistent across transport modes.  We should note that many land based drones tend to be larger, like driverless cars and trucks, which inherit and benefit from a lot of precedent operating rules from human driven vehicles and in-place ground based barriers can contain their use.  Plus any errant behavior of a ground vehicle drone may be both more readily detected and resolved with traditional safety measures.

Third, there are several drone battle lines in operation that need negotiated resolutions.Second, aerial drones are not the only mode of drones to study and the debates around one type of drone should be considered when studying other drones.  There will be pros and cons associated with drones in the air, in the ground, on the ground, in space and above and below water.  Our study should be open to allow transfer of knowledge and the harmonization of the operating environments where possible.  You know that a multi-modal drone will be inevitable and that frequently threats will be persistent across transport modes.  We should note that many land based drones tend to be larger, like driverless cars and trucks, which inherit and benefit from a lot of precedent operating rules from human driven vehicles and in-place ground based barriers can contain their use.  Plus any errant behavior of a ground vehicle drone may be both more readily detected and resolved with traditional safety measures.

I. Battle of Risk Models: This battle is created by the use of different decision criteria for making drone use go/no go decisions which comes from how a group views the world. One group is characterized by a model of acceptable financial risk where some loss is just an expected normal business risk and the risk would be priced into their use of drones.  The other decision model deals with potential loss of life rather than financial loss where any mistake which could produce a fatality needs to be avoided as an unacceptable loss-of-life.

II. Battle of Rights: This is the multi-generational long and still critical tug of war between private rights and public need.  Drones introduce new intrusion threats in terms of trespassing across private property, undesired capturing of sight and sound, potential crashes, harmful interactions with pets, air rights disagreements, defend your property and yourself against threats and violations against the property owner’s right to quiet enjoyment of their property.  A full airing of existing public and private rights and the impact of drone use is needed to arrive at a best possible balance.

propertyThere are many precedent situations from the past that can help us frame the future solution such as rights that vary given population density such as hunting in rural versus urban areas or the operation of off-road vehicles and ATVs.  In many cases you even see state or county level differences based upon local norms and experiences. A quick solution may be in recognizing and handling drone based risks by tailoring drone operating rights based upon location based risks.  One notional solution is presented below.  A risk based approach to developing operating rules can help us to focus resources on riskier application areas and to be more flexible in opening up low risk areas more quickly.

Acceptable Financial Risk-page-001

III. Battle of Expectations: The enthusiasts always over promote and the veteran legacy operators always factor in their operational knowledge and the complexities of change management to establish different expectations.  Reality is always somewhere in between but the expectation gap always creates friction.  That friction is usually a normal healthy beneficial part of any adoption lifecycle as each side learns from each other and the marketplace provides feedback. Drone operations meeting the Low Risk profile could move forward using reasonable limited restrictions while any High Risk operations wait until the risks and rewards are more fully understood so that acceptable restrictions are able to be identified, implemented and enforced.  The use of a distinction between commercial and non-commercial use as it is being applied for regulating use seems to add no obvious value.  Instead use of the risk model to address the different decision models and the use of public versus private to address the different rights models adds more clarity.  In this scenario, a farmer using a drone for low altitude crop monitoring over land that he controls would be an allowable low risk operation and allowable unless for instance the crop land is in close proximity to an airport.

IV. Battle of Business Models: Whenever something new has to displace something old there is a different dynamic than when going into white space. Where drones can provide service where there essentially none is available, such as delivery to remote areas or emergency delivery in less than 5 minutes, justification and need to proceed are very clear. However, where you may already have regular daily or on-demand service the justification rests more on marginal gains with an offset for any erosion of the existing service.  Given enough data on current operational costs, demand profiles and the economics of drones a new balanced solution may be adopted in a managed process.

Warning to the Parcel & Post Industry:

possibeWhen the price of the drone delivery can be hidden or absorbed within a broader product supply chain bundle of services then a very real threat can emerge to any less bundled delivery solution!  A postal ala carte drone expedited delivery service with an individual price could be disintermediated when a cost is hidden in a broader service bundle.  For example, the USPS eBillPay service was doomed when banks started giving away online bill paying service.  This would call for an adjustment in postal service bundles combined with an aggressive exploitation of drones to establish your best new balanced position as rapidly as possible.

Conclusion: As usual the many desired uses coupled with the possible unintended consequences from the introduction of a new technology provide ample reasons both to adopt it and not to adopt it.  A healthy open public debate will help us strike a working balance.  Meanwhile, history provides us with several guideposts for our journey.

(1) That to resist adoption is futile. Consumer appetite for new technology cannot be suppressed.  Any attempts of suppression only stimulate demand.

(2) That the marketplace will prevail.  The innovation and explosive growth in drones will be in proportion to the money and management talent devoted to it.  Unless economic benefit can be obtained money will stop feeding drone use and innovation.

(3) That any unintended consequences that we can anticipate and address before they happen help us to maximize benefits and minimize costs.  Imagine if Internet cyber security threats could have been foreseen and features built into the Internet to make its more inherently secure.

Moving forward with drone use, the physician’s creed may say it best: “First do no harm.”

By Chuck Chamberlain

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The image displayed on this post was obtained through 3D Robotics: “3DR CEO Chris Anderson drops the hammer on the potential of this technology and 3DR’s role in creating that future”  http://3drobotics.com/2015/01/ces-report/

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2 Replies

  1. Kent Smith

    Nice, thoughtful post. It’s a complex issue and will be the subject of discussion for many years to come.

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