On September 8th, Lord Wei spoke in the House of Lords on the Report of the European Union Committee on Civilian Use of Drones in the EU. He commended the proportionate recommendations put forward and focused his remarks on the challenge highlighted by the report regarding the need to balance and recognise rapid innovation, alongside mitigating risks associated with both commercial and leisure use of drones and the development of a regulatory framework that works and is cost-effective but does not become obsolete before it has been enshrined in legislation and regulation. He felt that a blanket legislative as it would hamper innovation and the development of a drone industry. He suggested that Government should work out where the long-term development of smaller drones, in particular, is headed, and to try to work back to the key inflection points along the way, where we will need to evolve legislation at global, regional, and national levels. He felt is was very clear that drones will and should form part of the wider internet-of-things ecosystem, and that ultimately this is about a transportation and logistics revolution that will be as dramatic as the work we are seeing in the introduction of self-driving vehicles. He asked that the Government consider not only how drones will operate purely in terms of their relationship with aviation but how they will function within a future transportation web of which cars and airborne vehicles delivering people—or, more likely in this case, goods and objects—are a part. Ultimately drones will be part of a worldwide hive of robots, operating even in indoor environments—for example, to carry items such as the food that we may end up eating in restaurants, or enabling goods to be delivered to remote and rural areas cost-effectively. On the one hand, taking this integrated view is incredibly complex but, on the other, ultimately realistic given the passing of time. It should be remembered that smartphones themselves are barely a decade old—and look where we are today. This view can allow us to encourage a mix of approaches through different global, EU and national bodies to develop proportionate, cost-effective and workable regulation. He highlighted:
- the need for tracking higher-risk internet-of-things devices, of which drones are a part.
- the possible lever of insurance, to encourage registration of drones
- the encouragement of research in autonomous transportation to geo-fence high-risk areas and avoid harming people on the ground
- the need to understand the impact of drones in the workplace on lower-skilled jobs to help smooth labour market transitions.