Mary Cummings, Duke: US
Not Leading Drone Industry
February 26, 2014
Commercial drones, unmanned planes doing regular tasks, are being used
more and more around the world. Some assignments for these unmanned
aircraft might surprise you, others will amaze you. Think of a drone as
a flying camera, capturing pictures impossible for human pilots in large
aircraft. But they do more than just take pretty pictures, and are
cruising the skies in many countries with few restrictions.
In England, a drone delivers sushi to restaurant tables. It is, in
effect, a flying waiter.
In South Africa, drones are conducting wildlife research on elephants,
impalas, giraffes and other wild animals.
Over the Pacific Ocean, drones take graceful video of whales at play.
In Indonesia and China, drones will soon transport gold from mines.
Producer Chris Kippenberger, who creates TV commercials in Germany for
high-end cars, says drones open up all kinds of possibilities. "You can
now keep the principal, keep the natural action that they are doing and
start the shot from the top of a building and have the drone fly down to
Drones have also attracted unwanted attention. Two Canadians were jailed
for more than two months in Egypt for filming with a drone. And Turkish
police shot down a drone taking pictures of anti-government protesters
The use of drones has raised privacy issues. At a recent U.S. Senate
hearing about regulating commercial or private drone use, Henio
Arcangeli of Yamaha USA testified about his company's experience with a
drone model called the RMax. "During its more than two decades of
flight, the RMax logged 1.8 million hours of flight, and to our
knowledge had not a single complaint of [invading] privacy."
Mary Cummings, who heads the human and autonomy lab at Duke University,
told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that
the United States is not "leading the drone industry - it is lagging."
US Drone Use Lags
Currently, drones can only fly in the U.S. on a limited basis, and
typically for research.
Kirstein, who works on airline regulatory law, says there are good
reasons for these limitations. "These technologies are new. They are not
proven. Particularly, there are lots of issues [about] mixing them in
with other air traffic.”
Privacy advocates such as Leslie Harris, former head of the Center for
Democracy & Technology, say laws are needed to protect civil liberties
in the face of technological advances. “Technology outstrips law over
and over again and it takes years to catch up," Harris said. "We are
expanding it off the Internet to devices, to drones, to cars, to
refrigerators, and we are going to have to finally make a decision as a
country whether we value privacy or not, and if we do, then we have to
get some basic laws in place."
The Federal Aviation Administration estimates 7,500 drones will fill
American skies within five years, but only after it publishes
regulations about their use. Those rules are due next year, but experts
doubt the deadline will be met.