Developments in the commercial drones sector are happening at such a rate that we are about to witness what Graham Trickey, head of IoT at GSMA, calls "the internet of skies".
The application of commercial drones can now be found in five key sectors:
- in retail, the likes of Amazon are utilizing drones to improve delivery times;
- in agriculture, drones can monitor the health of crops;
- in the energy sector, drones can provide real-time energy readings and improve safety in human inspections;
- in the construction sector, workers can also benefit from improved safety;
- and in public safety, drones can be used to aid in rescue operations.
But how to ensure the same level of cyber-security in the air that we find on the ground?
The physical risk
With safety and security a key focus for Gemalto, a successful drone value proposition requires what Trickey calls "the ability to manage volumes of drones in the marketplace."
In April 2019, three flights landing at Gatwick, in the UK, were diverted following a possible drone sighting. In June 2019, sightings of unauthorized drones halted departures from Singapore's Changi Airport: one runway was suspended and dozens of flights delayed.
It's a headline that could become too all familiar as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that by 2020 we will see seven million drones in the air. (To put this into perspective, there will be 10 times more commercial drones than manned aircraft by 2020.)
While physical numbers pose a challenge, the biggest security risk for drones is in the digital realm. "This new, connected world is bringing lots of advantages in day-to-day life, but it's also bringing challenges in terms of data privacy and cyber-security," explains Florent Abat, Marketing Director, Consumer Electronics IoT, Commercial Drones at Gemalto, a Thales company.
Drone Connect is a new remote identification tracking system that uses the same technology as the global mobile phone industry. Every drone in the sky will be authorized, securely tracked and monitored, all the time remaining protected from hackers by Thales's ECOsystem UTM and leaving a full record of everything it does.
With Drone Connect offering a digital license plate for drones that will improve the security of the skies, it has already been trialled successfully in New York and over the coming months will be trialled globally.
"With all the bricks that we provide around authentication, connectivity and cyber-security, we are able to create a safe environment for the drones that will be answering the needs of all governments," says Abat.
Governments will need to play their part, and create the regulation and standardization that will allow drones to operate securely, he adds. This includes drone authentication and traceability, and any data processes.
"We need to be sure that data is perfectly collected and it's also important to understand what will be done with the data afterwards," says Abat. This will, he says, provide "proper air control" for our skies.
For Abat, as long as we keep thinking about humans in the evolution of drone technology and its applications, we can look forward to the internet of skies rather than fear it. "In order to overcome those challenges, it's important to put the end user at the heart of this reflection and to bring digital trust to this new, connected world."