Drone boom sparks warning from EU and Irish data chief
Drones have become a booming €120bn business, according to a major new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The consultancy estimates that the small flying aircraft have already become a €43bn market within the infrastructure planning industry and are set to penetrate delivery services in the next three years.
Amazon has begun trial drone deliveries, while emergency services in Donegal are using drones in rescue situations.
The commercial drone boom comes as EU policymakers prepare to federalise drone law across the 28 member states this year. A draft regulation to centralise drone laws has been approved by the European Council, with common new rules set to apply to drone operators across the continent.
Chief among the new rules is a requirement for beefed-up privacy and security conditions. These will include an onus on drones to be easily identifiable and to have features that ensure compliance with identified no-fly zones and altitude limits. In Ireland, commercial drone owners must have a specialist licence while consumer drones over 1.5kg are required to be registered with the Irish Aviation Authority.
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has also warned that businesses thinking of using drones face a substantial to-do list before lift-off. Irish drone operators must complete a "privacy impact assessment" process, according to the DPC. Among other things, this is to "identify the risks to personal data protection, the necessary safeguards to address those risks, and the measurement and adjustment of those safeguards when in use". Drone users must also "ensure appropriate contracts are in place" and also have "a written drone-usage policy in place which includes reference to the uses that may be made of the data processed retention and security of personal data being processed".
Nevertheless, drones are set to increase their penetration among Irish businesses in the near future, according to PwC.
"Drone technology is rapidly moving from the concept to the commercial stage of its development," said David Lee, a technology partner in PwC. "7-Eleven, the world's largest convenience store chain has recently announced that it has successfully completed 77 drone flights to customers living within a mile of one of its stores in Reno Nevada.
However, the application of drone technology goes far beyond the delivery of product to end customers. Companies in the road and railway sector operate extensive networks of complex assets distributed over vast areas, generating high costs for investment monitoring, asset inventory and maintenance. Drone technologies are affording these companies a way to complete these activities in a faster, more cost-effective and safer way than traditional methods. By acquiring various sets of data, drones are becoming an essential tool on construction sites and during regular maintenance and asset inventory.