Chair: Martin Gill

Steven Reinharz – Chief Executive Officer at Artificial Intelligence Technology Solutions, Inc (US)
Geoff Moore – Security Consultant at Arup (Hong Kong)
Richard Gill – Founder & CEO at Drone Defence (UK)

Key points

Geoff Moore notes that there is a lack of understanding of drones and it is a fast-evolving area not yet matched by an adequate infrastructure of support. He likened it to the time when cars started and there were no roads built for them, so it was a process of getting by. Then more cars were built and gradually an infrastructure developed, and this parallels what is happening with drones. He likens the issues with drones to those relating to hostile mitigation vehicles; cars are big, drones are small. You cannot identify a good car from bad car, at least at a distance, and this complicates the building of the infrastructure. He warns against too much concern with the hobby drone users; the threat is not mostly from this direction. With reference to military uses he states that drones carrying weapons are used already to protect nuclear facilities and complications are added when these become airborne; attaching explosives is possible too. Then there is the threat posed by criminals. You will hear Geoff lead an interesting discussion on the ways in which offenders can use drones – far wider than the risk of attaching weapons – which includes using drones to facilitate cybercrimes. In fact, drones themselves can be hacked – especially cheaper ones – because they often contain software from third part suppliers. Responding then is in part about understanding the risks and their likelihood; the character of different threats; the role of other security measures such as perimeter security; and regulation.

Richard Gill sets a context by referencing the more general technical revolution that is impacting on the way we live. Steam, electricity, then information technology which is still evolving, and he underlines the growing power of data. Drones are unique, they have the advantage of being able to be powered from sustainable energy and will have an impact as great as the combustion engine. He points to using drones to transport goods at a cheaper cost and in the process reducing pollution. As always with technologies these benefits come with risks, including the danger of criminals using drones for their purposes; there is for example the potential for terrorists to drop grenades or explosive devices. Richard advocates a risk-based approach to regulation and reminds of the need to be aware that representative bodies have still not evolved and he is keen to avoid the danger that discussions about what rules are appropriate will be based on an incomplete understanding. Most users do not intend harm. Another area that is still evolving is that of insurance.

Steve Reinharz also references the industrial/technological revolutions the latter of which is having a dramatic impact on the way security and FM are being provided. Drones are developing along with AI and offering a wide range of new service and security possibilities. Steve also highlights the need for a proportionate response to the risks. He underlines the real challenge being less about regulation and more about enforcement; without the latter the former is handicapped. Moreover, there has been a sense that enforcement authorities lack resources and therefore teeth. Addressing the point about the evolving world of insurance, also an issue for manufacturers, he argues that the best protection that can be given is good equipment. He notes the benefits in not using third party software.

What is clear is the drone use is evolving, as the technologies and capabilities develop so do the options for security. Logically risks increase too. Our panel have highlighted a range that can be serious but warn about embarking on regulation without fully understanding the nature of risks in what is an evolving area; rules need to be proportionate. Moreover, enforcement needs to step up and that requires funding. It is important that an awareness of the opportunities and risks emerge in parallel; the dangers of not doing so are considerable.

Martin Gill
5th May 2021