Drones, Privacy and the Postman

Drones. Scary huh? Say the word to most people and the image conjured up is one of unmanned flying machines delivering indiscriminate death and destruction somewhere in the Middle East.

Mention drone use in a civilian capacity and people will immediately start questioning their use, citing breeches of privacy, human rights and the beginning of the Big Brother state.

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Credit: Drone photo by Don McCullough on Flickr

But a closer look at drone technology reveals that these notorious little blighters have the capacity to do a lot of good.

Drones can go where a lot of manned aircraft can’t, like into the eye of a storm for instance. NASA have been using drones to collect data from storms for some time now with the long term goal being to help improve forecasting.

Drones can be used to help farmers maintain their crops, increasing crop yields while saving money. They’ve been flying unmanned helicopters in hard to reach Japanese fields for over 20 years.

Drones have been used across the world to monitor and protect wildlife. Unmanned aircraft can go where people would either endanger or upset wildlife. The WWF have been funding surveillance drones over Africa to track poachers and injured animals. And the Orangutan Conservancy team have been using drones to cut through the dense forests of Indonesia and Malaysia to count numbers and keep on top of deforestation.

Recently an injured victim of a car crash became the first human being to be saved by an unmanned aircraft in Saskatchewan, Canada. Royal Canadian Mounted Policy managed to track down the disorientated victim of the crash after he’d wandered off into the cold dark night where a ground search and an air ambulance had both failed to find him.

Which brings us to the current discussion regarding the use of drones for postal delivery services. German delivery company DHL, which launched its “parcelcopter” research project last year, announced a regular drone delivery service for the first time last week. But don’t misunderstand this, this is not a consumer-driven service like the business models adopted by Amazon or Google. The DHL service will improve the availability of medicines and other urgent goods in specific places; for example, where an island can only be reached by aircraft and ferry.

Inevitably many people will have issues about invasion of privacy, and questionable uses by authorities and enterprises. But hopefully, with a bit of sensible discussion and the right laws, these useful little guys can make a positive contribution to society.