The use of drones has skyrocketed in the recent years, and we can expect to see more of them in the years to come. Experts predict 2.7 million drones to be in use by year 2020. But, first, how do we define a drone? According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an unmanned aircraft system (UAS or commonly called a drone) is the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of the accompanying support equipment, data links, control station, communications and navigation equipment, telemetry etc., essential in operating the unmanned aircraft.
A drone can cost anywhere from a few bucks to millions of dollars depending on its complexity and purpose. In 2014, spending on drones has reached $720 million all over the world, with DJI (Dajiang Innovations) taking majority of the market share. Drones come in different shapes and sizes, with small hobby versions that can fit into a person’s palm to larger and more complex ones. Operating systems and functionalities also vary depending on the type and the cost of the unit.
Drone technology has come a long way and drones are currently being used commercially for aerial photography, food and medical supplies delivery, border patrol, land surveying, industrial and construction inspections, agricultural monitoring, damage assessment during calamities, and law enforcement.
With the utility of drones in several industries today, come the risks and potential liabilities that surround the growing use of drones.
- Criminal Use. The usefulness and versatility of drones have unfortunately been taken advantage of by criminal elements. There had been news stories in the recent years about drug cartels that use drones in transporting drugs across the border into the United States. There have also been reports in Russia, Australia, and the US where drones were used in order to get illegal drugs and other contraband into prisons.
- Crashes/Collisions. Drones are most likely to collide with manned aircrafts that fly below 500 feet, including airplanes during landing or takeoff, helicopters, and agricultural gliders and aircrafts. Collisions can cost millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
- Privacy. Drones with cameras hovering in areas with people can give rise to claims for invasion of privacy. Aside from this, there can also be intellectual property issues as drones that fly over offices and commercial offices can record proprietary information.
- Cyber Attack. Data collected by drones are vulnerable to hacking, as drones use wi-fi radio signals. A hacker can also hijack a drone by taking over the drone’s radio signals and taking control of the unit.
- Human Error. Those who use drones for hobby, including many children, comprise the majority of drone operators; and the lack of or insufficient regulations and mandatory safety training for these users is a public safety concern.
- Acts of terror. Unfortunately, drones can potentially be used for acts of terror. Drones can easily target huge crowds in stadiums, festivals, parades, and other outdoor events.
- Liability Claims. Once clear-cut regulations are in place, especially on recreation drones, we can expect a rise in high-dollar liability claims against manufacturers though product liability, and businesses through general liability exposure. Liabilities for property, personal injury, and financial damages can also be expected to rise.
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