Could drones pave the way to an electronic license plate?

Millions of drones are now flying, and many more are to come. How could each one be identified? Photo credit: Business insider

Just in the 2015 Christmas shopping spree about 400,000 drones were sold in the US. And that followed the request by FAA to have all drones weighting over 250g to be registered as flying objects in the FAA data base. In 2016 the estimate is of 2.5 million drones sold in the US.  Numbers vary based on the source, the reality is that no-one really knows apart from the fact the number is significant and it is significantly growing.

In the consumer market it has overflown the segment of people passionate about flying airplanes model entering the market of photographers that see in the drone an add on to their photo equipment kit.  And this segment is way larger than the former.

The use of drones in commercial tasks is fraught with regulations and absence of regulations leading to very restrictive, cautious use.

I should say that I couldn’t refrain from an earthy laughter seeing a video posted on Facebook just few days ago. It was the filming of a drone that was filming the surrounding, hoovering over a patch of grass outside the labs of Telecom Italia in Turin. The point of the flight (if you may call  “flight” something way shorter than the Wright flight at Kitty Hawks) was to demonstrate on one hand the high bandwidth that could be achieved by using higher frequencies in radio communications –like the ones planned in the 5G- and on the other hand the low latency ensuring a perfect control of the drone. Why the laughter? In the clip you can see two people donning an helmet watching the drone at a safe distance and the rope that was tethering the drone to earth, just in case. Not a very trusty ambiance indeed… considering that the point was to show the safety achievable with new radio communications systems.

Nevertheless, the people there played according to Italian rules: drones used for commercial use needs to be tethered for safety reasons, and people working in a potentially hazardous environment need to wear a helmet.

The FAA request to register drones over 250g, so far, has not received a massive response. There are more unregistered drones than registered ones. The procedure, on the other hand, does not lead to an easy check of compliance. Upon registration the owner is provider with a unique identification number that has to be glued on the drone. Quite difficult to check.

DJI, the largest consumer drones manufacturer, has recently published a whitepaper proposing to associate each drone with an electronic identification code that it will periodically broadcast (like the commercial aircraft identity set in the aircraft transponder). This identity will match the owner identity as stored in the registration data base of the FAA that will only be accessible to public authority, for privacy reasons, like it happens with the vehicles license plate.

I found this proposal interesting and in a way it may pave the way to electronic license plates for all vehicles, including, why not, bikes, hoverboards, Segways.

Actually, stretching the point a bit further, why not thinking of an electronic Id for any Things that can be connected to the Internet (IoT). It may coincide with the IP address (or be related to).

In the next decade more and more things will be connected to the Internet. Yesterday I had a pleasant discussion with two persons working in the SEB group, one of the world largest in the home appliances market (you are most likely to have one or more of their products in your home, under brands like Rowenta, Tefal, Lagostina…) and they are working to digitalise their products. A pressure cooking pot can embed sensors and can provide you with suggestion for recipes. It also connects to the Web and applications can monitor your cooking, providing suggestions for a better eating habit. It can share recipes among a community of user and it may, in the future, monitor its safety or become a platform for third parties to deliver services. Along with these interesting opportunities come the concern of malicious hacking transforming your pressure cooking pot into a potential bomb (joking, but not too much).

Whenever we connect something (including our home door connecting to the outside) we are subject to potential interaction from third parties, most of them welcome, a few undesired.

Finding a balance between the opportunities provided by digitalization-connectivity and potential hazard will be a growing challenge in the coming decades.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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