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25 June 2015

Drone sector could be stifled by proposed US safety bill

A Consumer Drone Safety Act could suffocate the development of a sector expected to deliver over 100,000 jobs in the next decade, according to specialist lawyers.

By Neasa MacErlean

Regulation of drones is hotly contested Christian Kohler

The US is currently going through a battle between those who fear for the safety aspects of unmanned aerial vehicles and those who believe it can be well-managed and will create a market estimated at some $82b. The Consumer Drone Safety Act has been introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein after the recent release of data showing 190 occasions in which drones were spotted in unauthorised locations. About two dozen reportedly showed near misses. Senator Feinstein said: 'If we don’t act now, it’s only a matter of time before we have a tragedy on our hands.'

Draconian set of limits

However, the industry is already building safety mechanisms into its designs and rules are being developed by the Federal Aviation Authority. Brendan Schulman, head of the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) unit at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, said: 'There’s potential for this to turn into a rather draconian set of limits on both the user and the manufacturer.' 

Inhibiting innovation

Lisa Ellman, co-chair of the UAS team at Hogan Lovells, said: 'I’m in agreement with the spirit of the bill. But being prescriptive about what technologies manufacturers should include are things that industry and policy makers are already working on now, and it doesn’t make sense to get in the way of that. We want to enforce safety without inhibiting innovation.'

Robotics

Drone regulation is a major theme of the Robotics Law Journal which is to be launched next month by the Global Legal Post. Sources: Fortune and Robotics Law Journal

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