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Roger Clarke's 'Hobbyist Drones Capabilities'

Hobbyist Drones
Payload and Mission Capabilities

Invited Presentation to a Workshop on Remotely Piloted Airborne Vehicles and Related Technologies,
organised by Philip Hall, President of IEEE SSIT (Society on Social Implications of Technology,
in conjunction with Adam Molnar of Deakin University, at the
University of Melbourne, 29 September 2014

Version of 29 September 2014

Roger Clarke **

(c) Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2014

Available under an AEShareNet Free
for Education licence or a Creative Commons 'Some
Rights Reserved' licence.

This document is at

The slide-set is at Drones-IEEE-140929.pdf (5.6MB)


The invited group of 25 people considered the capabilities of 'drones' (by whatever name), and the need for a robust regulatory framework for their use.

The second session spent 1-1/2 hours on the payload and mission capabilities of personally-owned and -operated drones, the risks arising from them, and the options for a regulatory framework to address those risks.

The structure of the session was:

Key Points

Regulatory arrangements for drones vary between countries, but in Australia (slides 33-35):

Small drones have quite abruptly become capable of considerable payloads and flight-times, for low up-front and running costs. They have limited safety features, and they are subject to a long list of 'failure modes' (slide 16). They are capable of considerable harm to public safety (slides 17-18), and they represent a considerable threat to behavioural privacy (slides 20-25).

Small drones give rise to substantial risks (slides 6-10, 31). The current regulatory framework does not adequately manage those risks. The responsible regulator (CASA) lacks the resources to enforce existing laws, and has moved slowly in relation to adapting the regulatory framework. CASA's response appears to have been to find ways to reduce its obligations, in particular by reducing the obligations of the users of small drones. Substantial risks will continue to be unaddressed. Accidents are waiting to happen.

One major issue is that the existing size-based regime is inadequate. An effective risk assessment has to be based on a range of factors, including size, velocity, mission, location, device capabilities, and pilot and operator capabilities.

A regulatory framework comprises a range of measures (slides 27-28). In relation to the public safety aspects of small drones, the existing regulatory framework is seriously inadequate. Despite the availability of a range of measures (slides 32, 38-42), there is at present no proposal to improve it. A parliamentary committee has noticed that there's a problem, but the parliament itself hasn't, and the regulatory agency is dragging its feet and appears likely to reduce public protections still further.

In relation to the privacy and surveillance aspects of drones generally, the existing regulatory framework is close to non-existent (slides 44-45). Opportunities exist to address those problems as well (slides 46, 48).

Accidents are waiting to happen. Harm will result not only to people and property, but also to the prospects of the drone industry. Regulatory frameworks are needed that satisfy the criteria for an effective regulatory regime, in relation to:

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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Created: 29 September 2014 - Last Amended: 29 September 2014 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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