Discussing the positives but also danger of drones

Photo: Czech Television

In Czech Life this week our guest is Jakub Karas, the director of the Czech Unmanned Aerial Alliance and an expert on drones who has also published a book on their use. As both professional and hobby drones have caught on, Radio Prague took the opportunity to ask about the possibilities but also potential dangers they represent.

Photo: Czech Television
I began by asking about the tipping point not so long ago, when drones went from military to broader commerical and consumer use.

“Drones were first developed for military purposes but advances in technology and advances in components, allowing them to become lighter, smaller, made it only a matter of time before they became commercially available to regular consumers. Before that, their application was military for example for terrain mapping and those early models were significantly heavier and larger.”

So those advances had to be made… now it has become commonplace to hear about them, used for example by film crews to produce stunning aerial shots…

“Yeah. With a little imagination, drones can be used for many different tasks and applied in many industries: the film business, as you said, but also TV broadcasting and marketing. Also they are used to help integrated rescues or to monitor the situation in numerous crises such as earthquakes around the world. They were used at Fukushima also and in the Czech Republic in Vrbětice.”

Vrbětice is the site of a former munitions site which was partly destroyed by uncontrolled explosions which led to a very unsafe and unstable environment. So drones were sent in to assess the damage and danger.

“Drones can be used for many different tasks and applied in many fields, from the film business to crisis management.”

“That’s right. Other areas where they have been applied include various industries, the energy sector or agriculture.”

What about the casual use of drones? Are members of the public fully aware of existing regulations and limits?

“The public should be more informed. Currently, you need permission to fly drones anywhere other than directly over your own backyard. But many people don’t realize that. They are unaware of the potential danger – the damage and injury a drone could do if it malfunctions and falls out of the sky, infringing on others’ privacy or crossing into a no-fly zone, or because they are undetectable on radar, becoming involved in a collision.”

But there are regulations in place and hefty fines beginning at 50,000 crowns for misuse.

“Yes, and I don’t think the legislation is bad just that more people need to be informed. They can buy a drone online which they operate with a tablet and not fully realize what it is they are getting into, that they can’t just fly their drone over a stadium, putting others at risk. The fine starts at 50,000 crowns – that is the minimum. So they really need to be informed.”

Jakub Karas, photo: archive of Jakub Karas
There can be unintentional misuse and malicious intent, such as using a drone for spying purposes, or worse, we’ve heard suggested, to plan or to make possible a terrorist attack, used as a delivery device.

“It is certainly possible to attach a small bomb to a drone so the threat is real. We also saw an incident in Japan where the prime minister’s residence was targeted by a drone which had low levels of radiation. That was in protest of Japan’s nuclear energy policy. What is also dangerous is that the drone can fly autonomously so you don’t catch the perpetrator.”

The country’s Interior Ministry recently announced a tender for an anti-drone system, on that would be mobile and could be stationed for example near no-fly zones or restricted areas. The price tag of 58 million isn’t particularly high. Does this mean that the winning firm will probably provide a mix of an already existing system perhaps tailored for the government?

“It is possible. Certainly the technology is already out there, using various tools to detect, monitor, and take out drones, so my guess would be that they won’t want to be starting from scratch. The technology allows for the signals between the drone and user to be blocked or even the use of a laser to take out the apparatus. But there you need to know that you are not sending parts plummeting to the ground which could hit bystanders.”

“Basically, if you are a hobbyist you need permission to fly drones almost anywhere other than over your own backyard.”

To come back to one of the main reasons why drones are getting attention, we have some truly stunning footage – they have truly changes out perspective and made it easier to get aerial shots that earlier would have had to be taken from a manned aircraft…

“Absolutely. We have already seen some of the results for example for the Czech tourism industry. In that sense, drones certainly have offered some great possibilities. In the future, we will see drones being used in more and more innovative ways.”