Blockchain drones are set to continue the frenzied pace of automation taking place around the world. It’s not uncommon to see fancy overhead shots of exotic landscapes made possible by the new wave of drones hitting the market, but where does blockchain come in and how are companies integrating these two technologies to impact societies of the future?
The most obvious solution that many readers gravitate to is door-to-door package delivery. In 2016 Chronicled (now the TrustedIoTAlliance) designed and developed a prototype drone delivery service. The main problem of drone delivery services is creating trusted access when a drone needs entry to a secure location like a home or warehouse.
To achieve this, a drone can connect with a chip reader on an IoT-connected (Internet of Things) access point like a door or window. Once the chip reader verifies the identity on the blockchain the drone enters and delivery can be completed. See a prototype in action here:
Dorado is another blockchain company looking to disrupt the $215 billion on-demand delivery industry. The founders come from a food delivery business background. Ultimately though, the team hopes to help customers deliver just about anything a drone can carry. Dorado launched an ICO in may of 2018 and raised around $21 million to fund the idea.
Despite plenty of projects ambitiously launching their own drone delivery solutions, taking on the delivery king is not going to be easy. Amazon Air Prime has been in development since 2013 and Jeff Bezos already has a healthy lead in the field. He also has the funds to launch his own cryptocurrency if other projects start taking the lead. Still, no word yet on whether the richest man in the world plans to integrate blockchain into his future delivery plans.
Amazon Prime Air has a head start in drone delivery but will it incorporate blockchain?
Another logical use-case where drones make the most sense is in the security industry. Drones may bring about the next level of mobile camera services that protect highly sensitive locations. Alternatively, they may act as the next generation of robotic bodyguards. These cases are somewhat questionable for blockchain integration. An incident last year at Gatwick airport highlights how this could change.
In December (2018), thousands of flights were grounded at the busy British airport when drones were spotted near commercial runways. Over 1,000 flights were grounded affecting the holiday travel plans of about 140,000 people, creating chaos in the process. Authorities feared the possibility of terrorist activities, although no major incidents were reported. The drama resulted in losses of £15 million ($19 million) for just one of the Airports carriers, EasyJet.
No suspects have been identified yet in the Gatwick incident, which highlights the need for adequate drone tracking in the future. A possible solution could come from IBM, who filed a patent in 2017 outlining how blockchain could be integrated with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). According to developers at the company, a permission blockchain could increase a network’s block time and provide airspace controllers with data on UAVs and operators.
Perhaps the most exciting area where blockchain drones can make a real difference is in conservation. National parks are employing drones to combat poaching in many parts of Africa. National parks are obviously out of bounds for public drone use. However, drones are allowed in other areas, and one company is looking to take advantage of the global growth of personal drones.
Soar, a company out of Australia wants to collect aerial photography to improve industries like smart agriculture, urban planning, disaster relief and natural resource management. Users have traditionally relied upon global companies like Google to provide them with mapping technology. Amir Farhand, CEO of Soar believes that the days of static mapping are over, and it will be the public who provides a new set of dynamic super mapping capabilities. All that data will lie on the blockchain and creators will be credited and compensated for contributing to the system.
Competing for the Skies
One or two drones in the sky may not pose a problem. But when there are hundreds competing for the same airspace, there’s bound to be some issues. What constitutes public airspace? Can drones fly over other people’s houses or should they stick to roads? How will companies avoid in-air collisions? Will humanity be faced with a new kind of air pollution?
Companies will need to address these and other issues if drones are to become a regular feature of our skies. Projects will have to work closely with local governmental organizations, regulators and of course the public at large. Otherwise, they may just find themselves sinking money into lofty pie-in-the-sky and not drone-in-the-sky ideals.
Violations of Privacy
By now it should be obvious that drones could pose a serious threat to privacy. To prevent this, public blockchains instead of private ones (like IBM proposes) may be the answer. If the general public has access to a drone registry blockchain they’ll be able to validate or reject any drones that venture into their neighbourhoods. This, of course, relies on drones transmitting a public signal in the first place.
Are Blockchain Drones the Future?
This is a particularly difficult question to answer. Technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it brings interesting new possibilities, and on the other, it adds a whole new set of problems. Certain applications like emergency medicine drops and anti-poaching campaigns are situations where the benefits are immediately evident.
In particular, remote locations could see the most growth because of the limited impact there. Introducing drones into highly populated urban areas is a completely different story. If anything society may need to rely on blockchain solutions to keep these high flying robots in check.
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