Civilian Drones Raise Hopes, Questions in
Drones, not just for military
Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as UAV's or drones, are not just for the military anymore, and experts say
Some experts said "disaster drones" could monitor refugee flows or human rights abuses, assist in "search and rescue" missions, and even, one day, deliver aid to hard-to-reach or dangerous areas.
Use in medicine
It sounds pretty space age -- that vaccines could whiz themselves to village health clinics in temperature-controlled flying bins -- but corporations and institutions, like the
Some envision vast, autonomous networks of battery-powered hovercrafts or quadcopters, the size of pizza boxes, hopping from recharge station to recharge station as the network delivers small payloads to city suburbs or remote villages.
Use in agriculture
Some of this technology doesn't exist yet, including some of the all-important "search and avoid" sensor capabilities that would keep these little aircraft from running into trees or each other. Drones still tend to crash a lot and they are pretty expensive.
And then there's the issue that you can't just fly things around in the civilian airspace of most countries without the proper laws, permissions and flight control coordination. Laws related to civilian drone use don't even exist in African countries, yet.
And then there's the design of the aircraft themselves.
A series of contests in
It's called the Flying Donkey Challenge and it will culminate in 2020 with a race around
Use in commerce
The challenge's director,
He said these "donkeys" haven't been invented yet, so no one really knows what they will look like or be like. But they will need to be pretty high-tech while also being rugged and affordable. "The price of a medium quality motorbike...you need something that locally is going to be able to be repaired and fixed quite easily," Ledgard stated.
He sees "donkeys" fueling growth in light manufacturing and an explosion in e-commerce as
"You can imagine flying donkey corridors, air corridors, which are basically alongside the road and just flying stuff back and forth all day," Ledgard said.
But some experts say shaking off the drone stigma won't be so easy.
Self-professed technology skeptic,
"Across Africa, very few countries have comprehensive domestic legislation on privacy and data protection and information storage....A drone cannot only see or listen. It can also sense and hear and read for example so in a couple of years time when you have the smaller drones also outfitted with facial recognition technology. For example, you could have smaller drones that could potentially hack into wireless systems," said Sandvik.
Drones, she said, are also pretty easy to hack into, and they can have dual capabilities, both things that could prove problematic, for example for an aid agency using a camera-outfitted drone to deliver relief items to a refugee camp.
"Is the drone going to then give [over] all of this humanitarian crisis mapping information? Is that going to be handed over the International Criminal Court for example?" Sandvik questioned.
But skeptics and dreamers alike do agree on something. This technology is coming, likely within the next decade, so
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