Drones are Transforming Industries for the Better— How Can Policymakers Help Drive Innovation?

Engine
Engine
Mar 31, 2016 · 6 min read
A drone is a a vehicle designed for flight that does not have a pilot on board and is instead controlled remotely.

WHAT ARE DRONES?

Before addressing the more complicated issues, let’s start with the basics. What do we mean when we talk about “drones”? The definition of what constitutes a drone varies, but broadly, it is a vehicle designed for flight that does not have a pilot on board and is instead controlled remotely. Drones might also be referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). UAS come in all shapes and sizes, and are typically classified by their weight. In the U.S., anything under 55 pound is considered a small UAS. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also proposed creating a micro-category for any UAS under 4.4 pounds.

Precision agriculture is one of the many promising applications for UAS.

THE PROMISE OF DRONES

Already, drones are being used to deliver medicine to remote areas, monitor crops, inspect electric and gas facilities, and aerially photograph real estate under a specific FAA exemption. But these exempted applications are approved on a case-by-case basis and operate under conservative FAA restrictions and conditions such as mandatory pilot licensing, a visual line of sight requirement, and a prohibition against operations after dark. Imagine the possibilities if UAS could operate autonomously or at night? From simple activities like delivering pizza to a hungry college student at midnight or more complicated events like working with police officers to track down a criminal, the positive and valuable use cases are endless. Every day, startups are conceiving of unforeseen, revolutionary applications for drone technologies.

Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act in 2012, which included a number of drone policies. What’s next?

POLICY IMPLICATIONS

So how do policymakers ensure these innovative companies are able to thrive? In many sectors, startups benefit from what is often referred to as permissionless innovation, or the ability to try out new ideas without having to first seek the blessing of regulators. Arguably, this type of framework has enabled the proliferation of Internet-based companies and the emergence of bitcoin. And while overly burdensome regulations can crush a burgeoning industry, in the case of UAS, a minimal, baseline amount of government involvement is essential. This is because at the most fundamental level, drones require integration into the national airspace (NAS) in order to function.


Engine FutureTech

A one-stop shop for policymakers to learn about innovative, emerging technologies, and the developing policy landscape around them.

Engine

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Engine

Engine is the voice of startups in government. We are a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis, and advocacy.

Engine FutureTech

A one-stop shop for policymakers to learn about innovative, emerging technologies, and the developing policy landscape around them.