Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Ireland Needs Drones

Drones come in all shapes and sizes, not just Predators
with sidewinders attached.
Drones have got something of a bad press recently, what with all of the extra-judicial killings and what not, and Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, and all sort of other folks getting concerned about the automation of lethal force.  Much of the focus is on the US, but it should be noted that there are dozens of countries deploying their own drones now, and not just for pre-emptive strikes on irksome alleged terrorists outside state borders.

Most drones are used for surveillance, notwithstanding the growing military engagement applications. Just last year, one arts group flew a drone across Dublin, and no one was really sure what to do about it. Amazon just used the phenomenon for a publicity stunt around drone deliveries, and rumours of the Australian delivery services using drones for remote delivery proved a little premature.  The uses for drones, or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are many, however, and Ireland can learn from them.

The coastline is long and narrow, and the coast guard and life boats are constantly under pressure, especially during stormy weather when their services are often called for.  Vast marine resources are repeatedly compromised by boats fishing beyond their permitted zones, and we are increasingly looking to further exploit the resources of the sea.

For a small country, Ireland has many remote areas inland, with mountains and bogs and farms requiring various services that are difficult and costly to provide.  Occasionally even the islands get cut off due to inclement weather - which while difficult for drones to navigate, are possibly a risk worth taking when there are no people required to attempt deliveries of food or other necessities.  Complex mountain rescues can be accelerated with drones, monitoring of farming programs such as REPS can be streamlined and centralised, and animal monitoring on farms can be done from the comfort of the farmhouse.

Gardai can use drones to help in searches around urban areas, where there are significant and ongoing demands for the Garda Helicopter to support various actions.  Increasingly risky cash deliveries could have a control room monitoring a drone that moves ahead of the convoy, looking for possible risks.  Rural post-offices in particular should feel more safe.

There are risks, of course.  The surveillance state is not something that sounds all that appealing, and the possibility of farmers to shoot down prying drones is certainly a live one.  But the cost savings to the emergency services, the minimised risk to the people who deliver emergency services, and the speed of response that becomes possible with centrally controlled and remotely deployed UAVs are all benefits that deserve strong consideration.

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