Technology is a constantly evolving field: concepts become prototypes, prototypes become products, and eventually technological advancement, often driven by the needs of science rather than consumerism, filters through to the mass market. It’s an unpredictable, nebulous process and many ideas don’t make the cut – and those that do are often faced with legal or social obstacles that can impede adoption of even the most innovative inventions. Drones are one such case.

Drones, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), have recently come under scrutiny due to potential security and legal risks. Whilst the concept of drones is nothing new, a recent report by the University of Birmingham Police Commission has highlighted some of the issues involved in the wide-scale, commercial use of drones, indicating that the technology is on the cusp of becoming a reality. The report is based on research undertaken by David Omand, former head of GCHQ, and states that with the use of drones in the UK set to increase over the next twenty years, RPAs will present ‘significant safety, security and privacy concerns’. The same report, however, also concedes that there are ‘significant benefits’ to be had from drones in terms of both security and the economy.

As it stands, the use of drones for any commercial purpose, including package delivery, filming or crop spraying, is illegal in the US. It is legal to fly drones privately, as long as they don’t impinge on the security or privacy of other citizens; similar restrictions apply in here in the UK. Whether or not the law is set to change remains to be seen: corporate giants such as Amazon and DHL have both expressed a desire for the legalisation of commercial drone use, in the hopes of providing a faster, more comprehensive service to their users.

Automation is a trend that embodies the zeitgeist of the 21st century: from relatively simple implementations such as contactless payment to ground-breaking applications like driverless cars, drones are a physical incarnation of the economic, technological and social desire to automate in the name of efficiency and progress. Automation itself is no bad thing, but concerns over drone use are not unfounded – the potential for abuse exists.

There will always be security concerns involved in the introduction of new technology, such as the Internet of Things, but these worries in and of themselves ought not to be barriers for technological adoption. With the right precautionary measures and legal restrictions, drones have the potential to improve processes and efficiency across multiple industries, and to create entirely new markets that will benefit the global economy.