TT Talk - Drone technology

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones as they are more commonly known, have been in existence for decades in various guises. In recent years, however, the technology has developed more rapidly and is being trialled within new areas of practice.

Historically, UAVs have been more commonly used in research, surveillance and for military purposes. They have also proved an invaluable aid in certain sectors. As the technology has improved in recent years the size of the UAV has dramatically reduced, and these advances have brought down the cost and threshold for ownership. Inevitably, this has opened the doors to many other sectors and spawned ideas for new applications.

UAVs today are being used far more broadly, in particular in the security, medical and forensic investigation sectors. Additionally, trials are underway in the logistics sector, where small package deliveries to remote areas - where costs may otherwise be prohibitive - are being proposed.

Reconnaissance as deterrent

In the security sector, there are examples today of drones being successfully used in the identification and deterrence of piracy attacks. Acting as a reconnaissance device to verify the threat level at an early stage, the UAV has the potential to become an indispensable piece of equipment for shipping. Being airborne gives significant advantages over ship-based equipment, as the field of view is greatly increased. Advances in visual technology on-board the UAV can provide high quality images or video footage, viewable in real time.

Enhanced medical response

The medical sector in some regions has also sought to embrace the opportunities this technology can provide. The deployment of vital medical supplies and lifesaving equipment, such as defibrillators, can be managed remotely and without the potential delays in getting to a patient that are typically experienced in surface transport or even by helicopter.

Investigative advantages

There are also a growing number of applications in forensic investigation fields where such technology can be deployed with a greatly reduced risk to life, for example in the event of fire or explosion. Again, the highly manoeuvrable technology is capable of providing high quality imagery in real time remotely, without jeopardising the safety of investigators. The UAV equipment in this regard can also be used to manage risk and guide strategy for emergency services.

General logistics: delivery & protection

Developments in logistics are beginning to multiply; so far there are two main deployments. The first is directly connected to delivery services; many of the large global postal operators at various stages of trial or proof of concept. There remain at this stage some practical restrictions in terms of the size and weight of parcel that can be carried, the operational flight distance without recharging. A further challenge relates to security - handling the point of receipt and signature for delivery. Notwithstanding these minor hurdles, it is likely that UAVs will gain traction in the coming years. Inevitably, certain more difficult or costly logistics operations - emergency logistics and remote locations - will drive the adoption of the technology where there are greater cost-saving opportunities.

"Certain more difficult or costly logistics operations will drive the adoption of the technology where there are greater cost-saving opportunities"

UAVs are also being deployed in some regions as a remote security device, following vehicles in convoy through certain high risk routes. Whilst GPS, locks and alarms have been used for many years along some corridors, with positive results, the moral hazard remains insofar as the equipment is often controlled by the driver of the vehicle, who is thus empowered (should he wish) to tamper with the equipment. The UAV technology can be controlled remotely or even autonomously and used to relay live imagery to a control centre. In the event of a theft taking place, the UAV is capable of remaining out of reach and can provide vital footage of the incident. Such technology also has the capability to act as a deterrent to thieves, who may realise that the nature of the equipment is such that it cannot be easily compromised.

Beware the 'dark side'

Unfortunately, as with many examples of technology development which benefits legitimate trade, there is a dark side to the accessibility of such equipment. Criminal organisations are able to use such equipment to their own ends in many of the ways described above. This might be in the surveillance of a warehouse (a new way to 'case the joint') ahead of a planned break in or following certain vehicles to build up trends in the routes they take and parking locations they use. Since the UAV is remotely controlled, the technology lessens the immediate risk of capture for the criminal. With devices available today for under US$1,000, which generally do not require any operating licence and have an operating range of up to two kilometres, the potential for wrongdoers is obvious. Governments and law enforcement agencies - let alone corporate risk assessments - will need to generate appropriate responses.

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director, TT Club

Staff Author

TT Club