Monday, July 22, 2013
UAVs Pros Cons in Toronto: safety and dialogue are keys to legitimacy
Ian Hannah of Avrobotics.ca displayed his professional hexcopter at the UAVs Pros Cons Symposium in Toronto.
One of the biggest drone-related stories to make the rounds is about a little Colorado town that is attempting to institute a $100 reward for anyone who shoots down an unmanned aircraft. I'll not post a link to this story, or name the actual town, since it appears this is little more than a stunt to attract media attention to the town.
The townspeople may or may not be "real" about their proposed law, given the likelihood of people being injured by gunfire or falling drones, but fear of unmanned aircraft systems (dronephobia?) is real. This fear is rooted in a disconnect between popular media, and the actual uses and potential for the technology.
UAVs Pros-Cons was an effort bring expert knowledge to the public, while at the same time providing a discussion of many of the legitimate concerns over drones and their uses.
Hosted June 30 at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Business Management in downtown Toronto, this was the first public event organized by DronesForGood.
Ian Hannah, a certified pilot and owner/operator of aerial photography provider Avrobotics.ca, displayed his professional-grade hexcopter, which is equipped with a high-end camera gimbal system for a digital SLR camera. Ian has uploaded some samples of what's possible with his equipment on Vimeo.
I also brought one of the four fixed-wing drones from the Drones for Schools initiative, which is one of the 32 programs originating from the five-year National Science Foundation grant EnLiST (Entrepreneurial Leadership in STEM Teaching and learning). These unmanned aircraft are designed to take aerial photo mosaics and photomaps.
Ian and I answered questions, and gave talks on drones and their many peaceful uses in media, agriculture, and scientific research. For the final talk of the symposium, I explored the portrayal of drones in the media, how that clashes with reality, and discussed the origin of the word "drone." I also gave examples of how drones can provide communities valuable data in times of crisis, and what kind of special ethical considerations drone journalists may have to consider.
Nikola Danaylov of the Singularity Weblog documented the talks, and posted them free to the public. More info about the symposium is available on the Ubverveillance blog.
In talking with Ian at the symposim, there was one message which seemed most urgent. He described to me how he was once invited by a colleague out to a soccer field, which are fairly common around airports given how the noise level makes most development unsuitable.
Ramona Pringle, a professor of media at Ryerson, facilitated the public discussion on UAVs at the symposium.
This person had a drone, and a rather expensive one. Ian estimated it was worth about $10,000. His colleague fired up the motors, and the drone immediately rose into the airspace near the airport, dashed over a busy road, and crashed nearby. It was all over fairly quick.
We have a code of ethics which we abide by on DroneJournalism.org, which specifically mentions that an operator must be familiar with his aircraft and operate it in a safe fashion. Obviously, there are going to be people who do not use common sense when operating these devices.
Ian is a proponent of certification, and after hearing about that incident, I have to say I'm a proponent as well. There are concerns in the UAV community that such a regulatory structure could be manipulated by "big players," which would needlessly direct people to specific, expensive hardware, thus blocking access to the skies.
Should everyone own a drone? Given the things I've seen and heard, I'm not so sure. We have public roads, but we don't let just anyone drive on them.
University of Toronto professor Andrew Clement spoke about the lack of compliance on private security cameras, and how drone surveilance could even further complicate this situation.
One thing I am sure about is the operational environment needs a lot of improvement in terms of safety. Without a safe operating record, journalists and small unmanned operators will have an exceptionally difficult time persuading the public to let us fly. And this is on top of all the sensationalist reports we've been struggling against.
I write a lot about openness of data on this website. Adding certifications may restrict some from flying, but that doesn't mean that the data those aircraft obtain has to be closed-source. The key might prove to be skilled operators, but who fly in the public interest by keeping their data available on the internet.
Avner Levin, Chair of the Law & Business Department at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, speaking about "drones for bad" and the threat to privacy.
UAVs Pros Cons was sponsored by in part by DroneJournalism.org and DronesForGood.com. Ryerson University and the Privacy & Cyber Crime Institute at the Ted Rogers School of Business Management provided patronage of this event. Convenors for this event included Katina Michael (Wollongong), Alexander Hayes (DronesForGood.com), Susannah Sabine (DronesForGood.com), Rob Manson (MOBLabs), Jai Galliot (jaigalliott.com), and myself.
Photos here are courtesy of Alexander Hayes, via Flickr. Below are video from talks by Ian and myself. More videos are available on the Singularity Weblog.
By Matt Schroyer at 9:00 AM
Citation: Matthew Schroyer, July 22, 2013, "UAVs Pros Cons in Toronto: safety and dialogue are keys to legitimacy", Mental Munition Factory, http://www.mentalmunition.com/2013/07/uavs-pros-cons-Toronto.html