Who controls the drones?

Who controls the drones?

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Commercial drones range from tiny four-rotor, battery driven `toys' to serious unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), capable of lifting one or more tonnes of cargo and travelling extensive distances more or less autonomously. They present an obvious instance where regulatory authorities around the world are either scrambling to play catch-up or, in a few instances - notably in the US - seem to be trying to smother the upstart technology with a blanket of `impossible' rules. Part of the problem regulators face is that all UAVs, whatever the size, pose a potential threat to civilian populations, not least because even a few kilos of malfunctioning drone dropping unexpectedly out of the sky is a hazard to all below. The smallest drone `toys' have the potential to be as threatening as their more massive commercial counterparts; entering `drone injuries' into a search engine already produces an interesting list of cut injuries from mini-drone whirling rotor blades. A video-equipped four-rotor UAV with a circumference of less than 30cm can play havoc with all our privacy conventions while also posing a crash threat if the pilot' loses control. Flown over an airport runway by aircraft-spotting enthusiasts keen to get some footage of a landing jumbo jet, tiny UAVs have already created some heartstopping moments for pilots. There are real safety risks here, and regulators naturally want to think through all the implications of a technology that has been transforming aerial warfare and is now being commercialised at a breathtaking pace.

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