In the age of coronavirus many of us have had to adjust to a different reality, a shake up to our routines and patterns. We have learnt that there are many ways our lives have changed, from the obvious – how we speak to friends and colleagues, to the more complex, or so it proved for me, such as cutting our own hair.

One of the most illustrative examples of this is a viral video which shows how a man in Cyprus had his drone walk his dog whilst he was in lockdown.

Whilst a novel comedic scene on the surface, the truth is that drones are one of the critical ways in which we are adapting to our new reality.

A new drone service has this week begun delivering urgent medical supplies from Hampshire to the Isle of Wight. Where a ferry trip would take 30 minutes, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) takes just 10 minutes to make the journey and can hold 100kgs whilst doing so. The UAV is now on standby to fly up to ten sorties a day should urgent supplies be needed.

Clearly, this is a concept with unlimited potential in an untold amount of settings. From safely disinfecting hard-hit areas, to employing cutting-edge technology such as thermal sensors that can identify symptoms such as elevated body temperatures, drones are taking the imaginations of governments by storm.

But the increased use of technology such as UAVs does expedite important moral and political questions which governments will need to answer. For example, the drone delivering PPE to the Isle of Wight has been granted special permission in two areas by the government.

Firstly it has been allowed to fly “beyond the visual line of sight”, where drone operators are normally required to see their drone at all times; and secondly the Government has created a special “air corridor” in which it is now allowed to fly in.

This frames several clear policy questions:

  • Should the right to fly beyond the visual line of sight and in air corridors be extended beyond this one trial?
  • Should this right be reserved only for drones carrying medical supplies or should it be extended to commercial operations?
  • Will the Government need to make exclusion zones where drones are not able to fly to protect airspace in the future as drone use is proliferated?
  • Will regulations always necessitate that drones be piloted by humans, or will AI become the pilots of the future?

These are questions that the Government will be grappling with over the coming months and for the multitude of sectors that stand to benefit from drone usage, such as the construction, oil and gas industry and medical supplies industries, these are issues which companies should seek to engage with before the policy arena moves ahead without them.

Not unlike the dog being led by the drone, industry must lead the drone debate as we move beyond simply the tried and tested and adapt to our new reality in a post-coronavirus world.