The future of drones regarding technology seems to have struck the right chord with the United Nations as small unmanned aircraft systems have been used extensively for various purposes including humanitarian, development, and peacekeeping missions.
Despite not being a miraculous antidote to all that ills this planet Earth, Christopher Fabian, principal advisor on innovation at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), believes that the drone technology bodes magnificently well for the United Nations. He is of the view that drone technology can bring about a massive change in three ways when it comes to UNICEF and other humanitarian and development agencies.
The first phase of the future of drones
Drones are able to access areas that may seem to be inaccessible by conventional means of transportation or where roads do not exist while carrying lightweight supplies.
The second phase
Drones can be employed for remote sensing such as gathering imagery and data in the aftermath of natural catastrophes such as mudslides, to locate the hardest-hit areas and where people have suffered the most.
Thirdly, drones and drone technology can also be used to amplify WiFi connectivity, from the sky to the ground, furnishing refugee camps or schools with access to the internet. Drones are of different sizes ranging from a giant Boeing 737 passenger jet to a tiny hummingbird sized aircraft. The data collected by the research firm Gartner reveals that the total drone sales have risen up to 2.2 million the world over in 2016 and revenue ratcheted up to a whopping $4.5 billion.
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According to Mr. Fabian, UNICEF, despite using drones at a limited level, is planning to ramp up the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in its operations. Malawi has collaborated with UNICEF to launch the first air corridor in Africa to test the humanitarian use of drones in the Kansungu District. Similarly, Vanuatu has also been partnering with UNICEF to test the capacity, efficiency, and effectiveness of drones to deliver life-saving vaccines to far-flung areas in the tiny Pacific island country.
Separated over 1,600Km, Vanuatu is an archipelago consisting of 82 islands. Some of these can be accessed by boat and mobile vaccination teams can make their way on foot to the target communities with vaccinations. This is a seemingly difficult task considering the climate and topography. A working group comprising the UNICEF and World Food Program (WFP) has been created to expand the use of drones. UNICEF heads the UN Innovation Network along with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which is an informal forum that convenes meetings on a quarterly basis to share lessons learned and initiate innovative ideas across agencies.
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Other agencies of the UN are also using drones. A new drone has recently been introduced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its partners to create a visual mapping of gamma radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which was damaged by the catastrophic Tsunami of 2011. Just the previous year, a drone supported by IAEA won the fourth prize in the 2016 United Arab Emirates Drones for Good contest which included more than 1,000 competitors from across the globe.
Remotely Operated Mosquito Emission Operation (ROMEO) won the first prize in the contest as it was able to portray alignment with the objective of uplifting human lives. It was engineered to transport and release sterile male mosquitos as part of an insect pest birth control technique that inhibits the growth of the pest population.
Drones have also be used by some of the UN peacekeeping missions stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and the Central African Republic for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes and to provide enhanced security to the citizenry. This can prove to be beneficial to the future of drones.
There is an in image in which spectators watch vehemently a quadcopter operated by the Chief Air Traffic Controller Steve Mkandawire, a certified civil aviation pilot. The spectators are residents of Thipa village, Kasungu District, Malawi. This is another image of ROMEO, which is a drone tailor-made to whiz through the sky to help stifle the growth of the undesired pest population. Mr. Herve Ladsous, former head of UN Peacekeeping, is provided detailed insight into the deployment of drones in Congo.
Also, there is a demonstration of a drone in the UN Office at Geneva. The machine is employed by the UN Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) for mapping and zoomed-in visual analysis.
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Future of Drones: Looking ahead
Drone technology, along with having its benefits, can also come with certain drawbacks. There have been consensus amongst UN human rights experts about the future of drones. Mr. Fabrian argues that the device itself is no danger to human lives but it is the operator controlling it. He emphasizes that the technology that is being introduced or worked on should be strictly regulated by the human rights framework such as the Conventional on the Rights of the Child.
The set of guiding principles forged by UNICEF for innovation of drone technology also includes segments such as designing with the end-user. Mr. Fabian believes that the UN has a massive role to play in advocating drone technology and making sure that appropriate policies are framed by local governments to mainstream drones. Moreover, he stresses that the government needs to strictly underscore the purpose of drones along with conjuring up the necessary national framework to support their use.
He further says that the private sector can be instrumental in this regard as drone technology can offer substantial commercial opportunities. Mr. Fabian foresees a future of drones wherein drones will be as common as the stationery we use today. He is of the view that in the beginning, this amazing technology may come across a few years of regulatory inhibition but a day will come when drones will be as common a sight as cell phones.