By Antony Mutunga
From being used in impossible missions by the military to being used to deliver medical supplies, drones have been one of the best innovations of this digital era. It all started with the Austrians back in 1849 when they used unpiloted balloons to attack Italy, making it the first ever use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and giving birth to the idea of drones.
Flash forward to the present and a lot has changed; now drones are available and more advanced, able to do more than the Austrian balloons that were used strictly for military purposes. However, this has not been the biggest leap; that honour is left to the fact that now several countries allow civilians, even as young as fourteen years old, to use drones. This, however, comes with various regulations that one has to follow before they can be allowed to fly them.
Nevertheless, in the end these regulations are much more accommodating compared to back in the day when different authorities all over the world put up difficult regulations to discourage the use of drones for commercial and non-commercial use. In fact, this is still the situation in Africa, where most countries do not even allow civilians to fly drones. Countries have put hefty fines for anyone caught operating drones illegally, as well as putting in place long and tiresome procedures for acquiring their licenses.
“As with all new inventions, there are upsides and downsides. The commercial drone is no exception. But until robust safeguards have been introduced to protect personal privacy from prying eyes in the skies, the true benefits to society of unmanned aerial vehicles will remain unrealised” – Alex Morritt
However, some countries have welcomed drones. For example, in Malawi drones are used to transport medical supplies to rural areas while in Rwanda they are being used for commercial purposes (the first country to do so in Africa). Nevertheless, with time, more countries are also slowly changing their attitude towards the unmanned aerial vehicles.
For instance, Kenya is soon making the commercial use of drones legal. This is after the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) recently announced that it is only waiting for the Attorney General to approve regulations presented to the State Law Office after the draft regulations were approved by the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) in January.
This comes as good news after Kenya had put up restrictions that mirrored a ban in 2015, causing most organisations to give up on the notion of ever owning drones. This turnaround has firms hoping that they will soon be able to use drones to help in various sectors. This will especially be useful now that the country is facing famine and drought, where drones can provide relief to the citizens of the affected areas faster. They can also help to bring medical supplies to the rural areas just like in Malawi. Agriculture, a major contributor to the GDP, can profit from drones as well as they will be used in agricultural surveys.
Drones will mostly be used to help business ease the transportation of commodities from one place to another. As well, the expected launch of Drone Taxis in July this year at Dubai will revolutionise the industry and help reduce traffic congestion in the major cities in the country. Even though it will be advantageous to Kenya, there is a need for more consolation before drones are allowed in the country because this will eventually lead to a rise in unemployment.
As organisations embrace drones they will reduce their use of other means of transportation; for example taxis will be left without customers and couriers might end up using drones instead of vehicles and motorcycles. This will also affect those who deal with long distance cargo trucks, as local firm has expressed its intention to purchase several Fly Ox drones as soon as commercial drones are allowed; a Fly Ox can carry up to two tonnes of cargo for long distances.
Apart from increasing the level of unemployment, drones will definitely affect one of the most important topics in today’s world: privacy. Drones, which are equipped with powerful cameras, are likely to pose a threat to people’s privacy as they may be used to spy. This invasion of privacy has already occurred in advanced countries, whereby people have reported cases of drones being used for sinister motives. For instance, in the US, a man shot down a drone that he found hovering over his backyard where his children were sunbathing.
Businesses may also be tempted to use drones to have an advantage over competitors by spying on consumers and determining what commodities people need the most. This will create an unfair advantage as well as rob the people of their privacy, as competitors may pick up the same tactics to be able to move along in the market.
The end result here is that every little thing one does could eventually also be under the watchful eye of government agencies, thanks to the mobility of the drones.
Other than privacy, people will now have to worry about their security as well. The major problem is that drones, like every other new innovation nowadays, are vulnerable to hackers. For example, drones can be hacked by terrorists to use them to spy on different installations in the country before striking. They could even purchase their own drones and arm them with explosives.
This is exactly why every scenario should be analysed when making the regulations on the use of drones commercially. It is important to ensure that every measure is taken to ensure that these negative impacts can be controlled so as to ensure that the drones are used in the right way. In addition, unlike America and other countries where drones for non-commercial uses are allowed, in Kenya we need to ensure that drone users follow the regulations put up to avoid any privacy and security concerns.