The announcement by a giant online retailer of their imminent commercial use of drones within five years to make small shipments is novel, promising customers the convenience of faster delivery times. Although the lure of same-day delivery for the next New York Times Bestseller is tempting, if not seductive, the thought of devices flying about with cargo, and potentially, cameras, stimulates the imagination, in not such great ways.
Upon seeing a commercial of a prototype drone delivering a small package to someone’s front door, my eleven-year-old son rattled off a half dozen what-ifs that could go wrong. These included “What if the drone gets tangled in wires?” “What if it drops the package on someone’s head?” ” What if the drone goes to the wrong house?” “What if the drone hits our dog?”
Yet, while my son was busy speculating over all the physical catastrophes his young mind could conjure up, my mind raced to potential privacy implications. How might criminals or busybodies use drones for personal gain, whether it be for spying on an unsuspecting neighbor, or by remotely hijacking a drone to intercept merchandise? The truth is that the possibility of drones being widely used by individuals is real and disturbing, especially considering their relative affordability, less than $300.
Privacy issues aside, the potential to make a positive impact during times of natural disasters is inarguable. Still, the question remains: Whether we end up with flying drones that deliver pizzas, books, or medications, or land-to-air-to-sea transformer drones for recreational use, are we really prepared for their potential widespread use?