The adoption of drone technology will witness an upward trend as the technology advances rapidly with increasing use in both public and private sectors. Several major corporations such as Amazon and DHL are adopting this technology to drive down the cost of operations and improve last mile delivery. We are bound to see an increase in the number of drones in our airspace as other players join the race.
As drones are here to stay, we must invest in technology that can regulate the use of drones while preventing threats simultaneously. Threats can be broadly classified into two categories – malicious intent and accidental or improper use.
Entities with malicious intent carrying out attacks with rogue drones have limited access to technology. Based on our current understanding, these drones are not expensive and being assembled using commonly available parts sold to drone hobbyists. These drones are unlikely to rely on expensive communication technology for communication. Further, due to the distance these drones are travelling, it is unlikely that they are pre-programmed as they must consider weather and other modifications to flight path to implement their agenda.
Accidental or improper usage can be attributed to the technology which is available at reasonable cost to majority of the population that has a low level of awareness regarding the regulations governing safe usage of drones. However, serious cognizance must be taken as accidental or improper usage can cause disruption at airports as well as unnecessary issuance of high alerts if a drone is spotted flying over a sensitive area.
Hence, defence and homeland security agencies must be empowered with a comprehensive counter-drone system that can monitor complete RF spectrum (3G, 4G, 5G and LTE in real-time) and determine the accurate location and altitude without any additional equipment. The system must have capabilities such as a customizable drone database to classify drones, whitelisting of friendly drones and detection of the drone operator in real-time.
The system must be able to detect, identify and neutralize different types of risks and operate in a wide variety of environments ranging from airport zones where multiple communication technologies and security protocols are already present to an urban environment that has a dense congestion of Wi-Fi or other open radio frequency enabled devices.
Although drones are leading industrial revolution 4.0 and bringing about business transformation, lack of regulations and ease of access to drones have led to an increase in their malicious use. However, the potential of this technology should not be stymied by imposing blanket bans, but a regulatory framework should be created that nurtures this technology to its pinnacle. Regulations should cover the entire flight cycle – right from registering drones to logging the flight data. The Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is an example how regulations can support the growth of drone technology with built-in law enforcement. ‘No Permission, No Takeoff’ (NPNT) compliance will ensure safe usage of airspace as manufacturers are quickly moving towards adopting these regulations.
Steps need to be taken to increase awareness about the usage of drones among citizens. With increased vigilance among citizens, they can report a drone flying in their vicinity to the authorities. This can reduce incidences of accidental or improper usage of drones and discourage rogue drone flights as well.
The government should create an environment that can foster the growth of organizations involved in creating counter-drone solutions through Make in India program. Indigenous R&D capabilities of apex level bodies such as Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) can be ramped up through technology aggregation projects. Expertise for such projects can be aggregated from startups and major players in private sector.
(The author is Co-Chair, FICCI Committee on Drones, and Co-Founder & CEO, IdeaForge Technology Pvt Ltd)