Technological developments of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, are one of the most exciting and potentially revolutionary fields in the tech world today. Developments in drone technology have the potential to drastically change transportation systems, including parcel deliveries, commuting, and the urgent transfer of medical supplies and equipment. They have the potential, as David Pierce from Wired points out, to bring the internet to people who don’t have it. And they are being used in exciting ways for research and development outside the world of technology, in the areas of agricultural and archaeological surveying. Yet drones also have the potential for close-up surveillance in ways that make many people nervous, and they can collect and disseminate data, often without detection, hence their use in military projects from as early as Nikola Tesla’s 1898 ‘teleautomation’ and Kettering’s ‘Kettering Bug’.
Yet concurrent with these extraordinary technological developments is the formulation and institution of regulations, and in particular, those concerning air traffic and air space, as well as data protection regulations for those drones whose capacity includes surveillance and imaging technology. Air traffic regulations aim to ensure that everything that flies in our skies does so responsibly, and data protection regulations aim to ensure that information collected and disseminated about private individuals is also done so responsibly and ethically. If we are to believe David Pierce, it will be the regulations and law-makers who decide what can be done with drones, and not the technology itself. For these reasons alone it is imperative that drone developers and enthusiasts stay up to date with the latest developments in air traffic and data protection regulations.