How Drones Can Help The Less Fortunate

“Drone” is a buzzword of the 21st century and the subject of global publications, military strategies, heated debate and ethical scrutiny. Seldom omitted from the ever-rotating media spotlight, it is a word the international public has become, for better or worse, increasingly familiar with. This familiarity, however, is vigorously cynical.

Insert the word into any media headline and one automatically ponders images of violent, terrible atrocities in faraway places of conflict. Drones are bad, they kill people, and that is all they do. At least, according to the general conclusion of a public overwhelmingly presented with the disastrous and monumental consequences of a new, ever-developing technology.

At Fueled, however, we know that the potential of all technology lies in how it is used. While drones have undeniably been the source of great ruin and tragedy, most notably in recent military and diplomatic contexts, the potential exists to use drones for more noble practices. Recently, various organizations, both corporate and nonprofit, have begun to see the potential drones have outside military combat.

Projects are now seeking to use drones to bring the Internet to the impoverished, deliver supplies and packages, and monitor human rights violations. It’s safe to say that unmanned aerial vehicles have slowly begun their integration into a wider, more humanitarian market.

Facebook has been the latest and most talked about corporation to announce plans to use drones for declared humanitarian purposes. Last August, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg published a paper entitled Is Connectivity A Human Right? which outlined his desire to improve Internet access across the globe.

Defined as “a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities and experts,” the project, called, seemed largely a zealous ambition. Like so many humanitarian declarations, the paper announced a grand problem, toying with various approaches to this problem, but failed to reconcile any immediate solutions.
Nearly a year later, however, Zuckerberg’s declarations are beginning to look feasible. In March, Facebook revealed the Connectivity Lab, a concrete strategy that plans to use drones, satellites, and lasers to beam internet from the sky, making it available in previously hard to reach areas or areas with low density populations. This announcement came after Facebook acquired UK based Ascenta, a company specialized in manufacturing solar-powered drones.

Projects like this are notably long term both in their approaches and benefits, and require an incredible amount of preparation before they can be implemented. Nonetheless, drone-centered humanitarian ventures are already underway.

The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) launched actor and humanitarian George Clooney in one such project. An initiative to combat human rights violations and foster environmental and animal projection, SSP uses satellites to monitor violence in conflict areas such as Sudan and South Sudan. Experts at Digital Globe, the satellite provider, then analyze the imagery before it is released to the public and press. SSP then relies on a mobile network of activists to influence governments to implement change.  
While the aforementioned projects and proposals shed a light on the humane potential of drones, the public must retain its caution. Skepticism and scrutiny is necessary in analyzing the motives of corporate and humanitarian partnerships which, while often partially altruistic, tend more than not to be murky and profit-driven.

Facebook, for example, in helping to provide Internet to impoverished areas, is also looking to profit by creating a new base of customers that will use their services. As Tim Worstall from Forbes writes, the company’s endeavors can be seen “as an effort to permanently entangle Facebook in the lives of the next wave of Internet consumers, and to attract a public subsidy at the same time.” While the project has a respectable goal—access to the Internet is by all means a method of raising living standards, boosting employment, and expanding economic growth—Worstall argues that “it shouldn't be achieved at the cost of a disguised public subsidy to a particular enterprise or in ways that create an unfair competitive advantage.”

The practices of the SSP, while not for profit, must be equally scrutinized. When drones and satellites provide instant surveillance, the public must be cautious of invasions of privacy. In all, these technologies are ultimately at the hands of those who employ them.

While drones will continue to be used for warfare and military endeavors, projects like the SSP and Facebook’s Connectivity Lab give hope that humanity is also contemplating a more productive use of a blemished technology. These pursuits represent operations that may work to change the ugly stigma of drones, and advocate responsible use of the powerful tools of the 21st century. 

About The Author:
This article has written by Hugo Beniada, Fueled is the world’s premier development and strategy firm specializing in creating Android and iPhone apps.

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