Drones have appeared on the scene like a flock of soaring birds or a cloud of bats out of hell--depending on your view of them. Suddenly they’re everywhere. Just how do you make them safe?

Drones have so much potential, yet their growth spurt is accompanied by the specter of danger.  So many unmanned vehicles in a finite space are bound to crash or go astray or lose expensive cargo. They will likely interfere with manned aircraft and with events on the ground, causing damage to property and harm to people.

Like the wild beast, these small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), as the FAA calls them, have got to be tamed. The process has already begun.

One approach involves artificial intelligence. A British AI company, Flock, is using a technological approach by building a risk-assessment platform for commercial drone flights in urban areas.  This company, with links to Imperial College, London, Oxford University and Cambridge University, is currently beta testing a system that uses big data, including real-time weather, building location, traffic and population-density information, to quantify risk and determine the safest urban route for a drone to take at any particular time.  Flock anticipates these assessments also could be used by insurers as an underwriting tool for drone coverage.

Another approach involves training drone operators to safely fly in all kinds of situations. As I explained in last week’s blog, the new Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) rules no longer require a would-be commercial drone pilot to first become a licensed manned-aircraft pilot, but they do require passing an Aeronautical Knowledge test as part of the certification process. Numerous schools offer preparation classes for this test.  Beyond the book knowledge, flying a drone requires skill and many places offer hands-on classes.  There are also drone flight simulators available that teach pilots to fly in a safe, controlled computer rather than the sky.  At least one of these simulators can be customized to reflect specific needs.

Meanwhile, the FAA’s news rules are an attempt to make the skies safer by restricting drones from flying in the most dangerous areas.  The agency took this a step further by launching a free smartphone app that enables drone operators to check on whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect for the area where they want to fly.

Safety will become still more important as new uses for drones emerge. While the Pentagon is developing drones with artificial intelligence to surgically differentiate and track down targets, technology companies can build commercial drones with artificial intelligence and sensors that make the devices safer. Meanwhile, given the continued regulations that balance safety and encourage innovation, the Consumer Technology Association predicts that by 2025, the U.S. could see one million drone flights a day.

Almost makes you want to duck, doesn’t it?

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