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Drones: Split Personalities with the Power to Good or Evil

Agencies, educators, and private enterprise are leading way to bring a ‘positive spin’ to the work rotor-driven drones do.

Map of Liverpool, UK proposing where to position drones for optimal crime prevention.
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There is a drone coming to a location near you soon – if, in fact, one hasn’t already done so. In 2021, U.S. retail behemoth, Walmart, in partnership with Zipline, under a special exemption granted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, began making deliveries of groceries and prescriptions to homes near its Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters.

But drones, or in aviation parlance – uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) – are set to have a much broader presence in the lives of ordinary citizens.

Public, private, and public-private partnerships

In the UK, police agencies are developing protocols to position drones above neighborhoods that are prone to high crime rates. Researchers at Washinton, D.C.-based, George Washington University are strategizing ways to prevent criminal and terrorists from obtaining drones to commit crimes. Researchers from University College, London and John Moores University have published a paper on how best to position drones above known crime-ridden neighborhoods to enhance their response time to reports of criminal activity.  The Counterterrorism Preparedness Network has released its report “Preparing for Hostile Drones in Urban Environments,” a joint effort of INTERPOL, the European Commission Counterterrorism Unit, the United Nations Counterterrorism Unit, and faculty from Lancaster University.

Map of Liverpool, UK proposing where to position drones for optimal crime prevention.

Researchers at London University and John Moores University map out optimal routes to position drones to mitigate crime.

On the private enterprise side, startups, such as Promo Drone, have a developed a digital messaging display system outfitted on their drones to do everything from aid, promote, and enhance drones’ use in public service. Promo Drones UAVs hope to be part of efforts to provide a ‘rapid response’ to disseminate information about missing persons alerts, deliver early warning messages for emergencies, announce assembly/gather points, or make targeted public service announcements in locations where they are most likely to do good.

At George Washington University, Peng Wei, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the George Washington University, is leading a three-year project which is investigating how to safeguard autonomous aircraft flying in high-density urban airspace from cyberattacks that could disrupt safe operations. The effort is part of a in University Leadership Initiative (ULI) which will receive US$6 million from NASA over the next three years.

“These neural-network embedded functions are becoming more sophisticated to verify, safeguard and certify,” Wei said. He and his team will focus on enhancing the resilience of the selected AI functions under malicious attacks.


Global threats require global threat prevention solutions

The 2024 Report, “Preparing for Hostile Drones in Urban Environments” prepared by a cohort of public safety and law enforcement agencies considered everything from international law to border security and the flow of weapons across borders to drones’ use in military applications as well as risks posed by recreational drone operators.

Interpol, working with, among others, The United Nations, established 10 recommendations to help mitigate the threats drones might pose:

 10 recommendations from the Interpol-led initiative to reduce threats from drones.

 Good vs. Evil

 Perhaps, Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, summed up future of drones in our lives: “Drones overall will be more impactful than I think people recognize, in positive ways to help society.” Well, Mr. Gates got it at least half-right. Drones, as we’ve seen here, have at least as much potential to do harm as they do good in the world.

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Dave Clarke

Dave Clarke is a California-based writer who is fascinated by the way technology changes our lives.