Among the big speeches at last week’s CES 2018 was the address by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Chao announced that drone registration in the United States has topped 1,000,000 – a headline grabbing fact that Chao used as an indicator of the success of the program.
But Harrison Wolf, Drone Project Lead for the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, says those numbers are not as impressive as they sound.
“Identification, tracking, and the mitigation of threats are quickly becoming the most important issues facing drones. Without robust, industry-wide collaboration that enables new technologies; manufacturers, consumers, and authorities are forced to rely on a voluntary registration system that is largely neglected,” Wolf tells DRONELIFE. “Though 1 million drones registered with the FAA since the systems creation may seem like a lot, it represents less than one-third of estimated drones being flown as of one-year ago. Without enforcement, technological innovation, or a more effective education campaign, voluntary registration simply doesn’t work.”
In a snap analysis of the program, Wolf says that the success of the program has been questionable from the start. “Controversy, technical concerns, and court rulings have plagued the drone registration process from its inception,” Wolf writes. “Regardless as to the legality of the requirements for hobbyists to register, tracking and identification of drones has become the most important topic in the industry.”
Wolf sees registration as only the first step in “developing a tracking and identification systems that protect society and deter bad actions from otherwise reasonable people.”
“Identifying a drone to an owner will have an ameliorating effect on behaviour; we’ve seen that when people can hide through anonymity they often act with less compassion, less attention, and less responsibility,” Wolf writes.
“Participation by the industry is a major hurdle as we’ve seen less than half of all drones being registered each year. The announcement that drone registrations passed the 1 million mark demonstrates both the success of a growing industry and failure of the program to engage even a majority of the participants with negligible enforcement or education.”
“…Is it worth the effort if enforcement is negligible?”
This is a question we’ve asked before – and as new lawsuits against the registration program gather steam it seems that some segment of drone operators just don’t agree with the concept. Another large segment of the population doesn’t seem to know it exists – and a full-on publicity effort would require significant resources. If the gap between those who register and total drones in the sky continues to widen, it’s a question that even the FAA may begin to ponder.