Is it time for a drone registry?

Drone registry

Written by Russell Haworth, CEO of Nominet

Almost one in five drone owners have lost their drone – more than once. Pair that with the fact that 83% of people think drones pose a risk to the public when out of range and it’s clear that we are becoming both careless and concerned. Prices are coming down – toy drones start at just £10 – and enthusiasm is rising. Society needs a system to control and regulate drone use and ownership, keeping people safe and reassured.

The statistics are from new Nominet research that examined consumer opinion around drones and their use. We found that 90% of people think drones should be registered with a central body and 65% believe those under 18 shouldn’t be able to buy them. There were also strong feelings about ownership for criminals – 61% think that those with a criminal record shouldn’t be allowed a drone. The idea of a ‘drone driving licence’ appealed to 72% of people asked.

An interest in drone regulation is rippling around the world following such alarming stories as near misses with commercial aircraft or drones acting as smuggling tool to get contraband into prisons. Amazon’s announcement that drone delivery was on the way caused some dismay rather than delight, especially with their idea for drones that self-destruct in adverse weather. Our research found that 26% of drone owners don’t know what the range of their drone is, increasing the risk of losing it and potentially causing public or structural harm.

National services are trying to find their own way of dealing with the rise (no pun intended) in irresponsible drone use and its associated problems. In New Jersey, drinking and ‘droning’ is now illegal. On our home shores, fireman in Surrey have warned drone owners that they will no longer come out to rescue drones from trees. 

The Government has the issue on the agenda, announcing back in July that new rules would force drone owners to register their drone and sit safety tests. Consultations were held on the idea and more are expected as the relevant members of the Government consider the how and when of such plans. Spring 2018 has been indicated as the time for a draft Bill to be tabled. Until then, the only existing support for drone owners is on Drone Safe and applicable laws are listed on the UK Civil Aviation Authority website.

When asked about the topic, 42% of those responding to our survey supported the creation of a new body to serve as a registry of drones. Such an option would provide scope for something more dynamic than a mere list of registrations. It is an approach that Nominet explored as part of our work with TV white space technology, creating a database that can authorise radio frequencies in real time by identifying available spectrum in that moment. A dynamic drone registry would enable permissions for flight to be provided in real time – potentially with insurance to cover flight duration only – and support safe flying within acceptable ranges. This is an idea the Government is also exploring, with the draft Bill expected to suggest creating ‘no-fly’ zones using geo-fencing technology to interact with a drone’s in-built GPS.

By factoring in airlines, activities, weather and building ownership, a dynamic registry would provide a safer means of using drones and limit the decisions the owner needs to make about when and where to use their drone. Much like roads and traffic lights control our driving, drones need a system by which they can fly safely when appropriate. There could even be a mechanism that stops the drone flying if it exceeds its boundaries, such as when it gets too close to an airport or community spaces and parks.

With the emerging technology that the industry has at its fingertips, a dynamic system is a realistic prospect that could set the standard for registry services for the new innovations that are on their way, especially in the arena of IoT. A ‘registry of things’ could work to dynamically register devices, whatever they may be, and provide permissions to safely operate. This could reduce risk and impose necessary regulation on a fast-growing digital phenomenon.    

Our world is changing. We are moving towards a vibrant digital future that will unlock new benefits and innovate our society, but only if we create regulations, policies and support systems to ensure risks are mitigated and citizens are empowered to apply new technology safely to their lives. The issue of drone registration and regulation is just one of the many that must be considered on the journey to this digital future.


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