Will drones replace Santa’s team?

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It looks like Santa’s reindeer may be put away as early as 2016 – that’s when Amazon is scheduled to start sending gifts (and other packages) using drones. What’s more, the company ensures that customers who choose this method of delivery (tentatively named Prime Air) will receive their shipments in less than half an hour. Right to the door. Will this „better tomorrow” really come in 2016, or will the disadvantages of this solution be revealed much earlier?

Videos from Amazon and DHL show that orders delivered by mini-helicopters will be handled by courier companies. Looking at what we have available on the market, we can see that you can easily buy equipment such as the Parrot AR Drone for PLN 1,000 – 1,500. Such equipment can be „tweaked” without a major problem so that it can carry packages. Therefore, from the point of view of the drones themselves, this project is already realistic. So why should we wait until 2016? The answer is simple: for such flights, you must have the appropriate qualifications from the organizations managing the safety of aviation. And so far, these organizations are not looking very favorably on the Amazon project.

In the United States, where Amazon is based, there are very restrictive regulations on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). A draft of general regulations of this type that would allow drones for civil use was signed in November. On the one hand, such a generalization of regulations would solve many problems – planes and helicopters could fly without the need to obtain special permits in individual cities. In turn, the aviation regulatory authority – the FAA – insists that any flying object must be piloted by a human, even when not sitting in the cockpit. This requirement is a major obstacle to the Amazon project – the costs would be enormous if a human had to control each drone. So, until businessmen succeed in persuading US government officials, to change their minds, unmanned drones delivering packages are rather a fantasy. In comparison, the situation in Europe is not that complicated. All flying objects that weigh less than 150 kg are considered 'toys' and are under the control of local civil authorities.

Interestingly, and very importantly, the drone-courier project has to meet a number of privacy requirements – both in the US and in Europe. It is worth remembering that drones are equipped with cameras and due to their small size they can easily fly close to buildings and people. As a result, there is the problem of photos and videos that nobody gave their consent to. Lawmakers have a lot of problems, such as: preparing regulations for the purpose of such photos / videos; authorization of photos from drones owned by companies and private persons; ways of obtaining permits; creating a list of organizations supervising this process; a place where data from drones etc. are stored. It is not difficult to notice that movies and photos from drones have great commercial potential. Imagine a personalized ad reaching you just a day after How did you receive the package from the drone: “We noticed that your roof needs renovation. Especially for you, we have an offer for the latest roof tiles ”.

Over time, more serious questions will arise, for example about protecting drones from hijacking. Security specialists have already demonstrated that it is possible to spoof the GPS signal thus, in theory, criminals could force drones to land anywhere. Taking control of the drone during the flight may also be a problem. Shortly after Amazon announced its bold project, a Skyjack device appeared that can take control of the drone by forcing it to disconnect from the wireless controller and establish a connection with itself. Cybercriminals are already rubbing their hands at the thought of new opportunities to earn money – just take control of the drone and intercept the package, the contents can be sold later. Not to mention the drone itself, which also has its value. And quite a lot. Continuing dark visions – such hijacked drones could serve criminal purposes – from espionage to terrorism.

Looking at all this, we can be sure about Santa and his reindeer – they are guaranteed commitment until it is possible to ensure the safety of the drones.