Drones vs. driverless cars: A tale of two robotics policies
When a 2-pound drone crashed on the White House lawn in January, the nation was thrown into drone hysteria.
That drone was a $1,000 model made by Chinese technology company DJI, but a basic camera-equipped drone can be had for $40—a fact not lost on those who pontificated about the crash. “It’s pretty worrisome if you’re in the Secret Service, you’re in law enforcement, a drone comes in and you don’t know if this is some 14-year-old kid who got a drone or if this is some al Qaeda sympathizer wanting to send a message,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said at the time.
The White House drone belonged not to a 14-year-old or terrorist, but to an off-duty government employee who reported the mishap to the Secret Service. The incident nevertheless illuminates the confusion that exists about drone laws—and how little the government has done to clarify it.
Some say the government should leave well enough alone, allowing drone-makers and operators to innovate. Others think a coming boom in consumer robotics technology — whether drones, driverless cars, or other devices yet to come—needs a comprehensive government response and, perhaps, even a “NASA for robots.”
“People thought they knew how [aviation] was regulated,” said MIT professor David Mindell, whose upcoming book “Our Robots, Ourselves” explores robots ranging from drones to Mars rovers. “Drones have thrown a monkey wrench into that.”