As fellow believers in the transformational power of technology, we at the DC Area Drone User Group
were surprised and saddened to read of your recent comments in multiple fora
urging increased restriction on the use of small drones. These positions are particularly surprising coming from the Chairman of Google in light of your organization’s admirable support of the World Wildlife Fund’s efforts to combat poaching using drones and Matternet’s research into developing drones to deliver medicine in Africa.
Ironically, right now due to FAA restrictions it is personally owned drones that are better positioned than government or corporate owned ones to be used for social good in the U.S. The DC Area Drone User Group is currently conducting a community service project with a park in our local area creating aerial trail videos and overhead maps to help the park manager track changes over time in plant and animal species inhabiting the area. It is illegal for the park to operate a drone themselves without going through a process with the FAA that is in practice too complicated and expensive for a small, local government entity to manage. It is also illegal for them to hire someone to operate a drone on their behalf since current regulations prohibit the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems. However, it is entirely legal for us to use our drones on a volunteer basis to help them better understand their own resources, an activity we are happy to help them with in an era where our public institutions are being asked to do more with less.
You suggest that terrorists might use drones for nefarious purposes. However, similar technologies have already been available for years. RC aircraft, ground vehicles and watercraft have been around for decades with people mounting cameras and other payloads on them. And just because terrorists have used Gmail to communicate in the current era, in much the same way they used telephones in the past, does not mean that the world would be better off if we had restricted use of email and telecommunication technologies to government and big business. Are you suggesting that any new technology should be suppressed because it might be used for anti-social purposes? The answer to these challenges is to ban terrorism, murder, theft, and invasion of privacy, as we have already done. Restricting access to specific technologies is always a losing game as bad actors will simply find new tools to cause harm to our society.
What your comments exemplify is a trend, unfortunately common in our society, where some people are afraid to see individuals gain access to tools that in the past have been the exclusive domain of governments and big corporations. As drone technology has become cheaper, smaller, and easier to use, we are seeing ordinary citizens and community groups become self-sufficient in areas where they previously had to rely on others. Farmers can check on the health of their own crops from the sky without having to pay for expensive manned aviation. Communities can map their own natural resources without having to buy costly satellite imagery.
Personally owned flying robots today have the power to change the balance of power between individuals and large bureaucracies in much the same way the Internet did in the past. And just as the military researchers who developed GPS for guiding munitions could never have imagined their technology would be used in the future to help people conduct health surveys in the world’s poorest countries or help people find dates in the world’s richest, there is a whole world of socially positive and banal applications for drones that are yet to be discovered. We should embrace this chance that technology provides instead of strangling these opportunities in their infancy. Our hope is that you and the rest of Google’s leadership will embrace this pro-technology agenda in the future rather than seeking to stifle it. We would welcome the opportunity to speak further with you about this topic.
President and Founder
DC Area Drone User Group
The DC Area Drone User Group is a community organization that seeks to promote the use of flying robots for community service, artistic, entrepreneurial, and recreational purposes.