In conversation with SNSMideast, the founder & CEO for FEDS, Rabih Bou Rashid talks about the growing use of drones in todays world and allays all the privacy and security concerns associated with drones.
What is the key role drones are playing today in enhancing the safety and security?
The most significant benefit that drones provide to security is situational awareness. In case of emergencies, minutes and even seconds can make the difference. Drones can respond to any event much faster than responders and collect relevant data that helps the responders. For example, take a large facility- in one corner, there is an emergency like a medical emergency or a breach. A drone can be deployed and dispatched to the site well ahead of responders and assess the situation. Using this data, the responders can have an effective plan of action before they arrive on-site. This can be extremely useful in the case of fires. Firefighters no longer have to walk into a blazing inferno without knowing exactly how they will enter and exit the fire.
A drone can arrive on-site beforehand, scan and assess the situation to identify hazards that may impede the firefighters or threaten their lives. Even in situations of low visibility where the smoke obscures vision- a drone with a thermal sensor can provide visibility in that situation. With the knowledge in hand, they can have a clear and effective plan of action that protects them while increasing the mission’s success rate.
What are the privacy issues related to drones and how to overcome them?
In terms of data protection, we follow strictly and, extreme measures are taken to ensure we don’t become the victim of data breaches. In terms of infringing the general public’s privacy, this is heavily dependent on the drone operator’s compliance.
Here in the UAE, we have robust and effective policies in place to protect privacy. We only fly in the permitted areas and capture data that we explicitly have the right to. By following the word of the law to the letter, we can ensure that no one’s privacy is being infringed. Suppose we do need to fly over private property or over areas where unrelated third parties may be present. In that case, we go through the proper channels to procure permits- and even then, all our operators are extremely mindful.
Some consider ‘drones as a threat to national security’, what is your take on it?
Similar to any advanced tool these days- in bad hands, it can certainly be a threat. In the UAE, we have strict rules and regulations where every drone and pilot must be registered officially- even hobbyists. By having a robust regulatory system in place, you have accountability and can single out any rule infringements efficiently- and this is just the start.
We see new designs coming in place; for instance, in the USA, the FAA is piloting a system where each drone has a digital ‘number plate’ similar to cars. But this digital number plate broadcasts the identification of the drone, its current location, and the location of the ground control point (pilot). This broadcast is available to the authorities, ensuring that no drone can pose a threat to national security.
What are the futuristic applications of drones in safety and security?
Currently, one of the limitations is that piloting the drone is a manual task. This limits the speed of deployment and reaction. In the future, we can expect to see automated drones. This automation doesn’t have to stop at navigation; you can have drones automatically recognize events, track objects and persons as the situation unfolds, and maybe even act as an early warning system of sorts.
Additionally, we see the trend of drones becoming smaller and smaller as the technology progresses. We have smaller yet more powerful batteries, same with sensors. This means that drones will be more accessible and offer the agility to be deployed in any situation. For example, a police officer could have a drone included to be part of the kit, which they can deploy on-demand- we already see glimpses of these applications. For example, Honda just patented a bike with a drone integrated into the design. The idea is that the rider can activate the drone to fly ahead and help automate bike transport. We are on the precept of innovation!
What makes FEDS different from its competitors?
FEDS was one of the first drone-based companies to start in the UAE, and we are currently the biggest drone service provider in the ME region. A large portion of this success can be attributed to our 100% compliance, our unrelenting focus on innovation, and our unyielding passion for drone technology. When we started, drone regulations in the region were still in development, but we made it a point to always be on the right side, even if it cost us time and money. The result is now we enjoy a certain level of trust and the ability to participate in pilot programs.
We are constantly on the lookout for the current industry-leading drones. We incorporate that into our fleet- this dramatically expands our capacity and capabilities when it comes to projects. Our dedication to innovation- we try to innovate where we can to solve real-world problems. We are currently in the prototype stage with a solution that could automate drones to a certain extent. We call it the nested-drone platform where the drone has a self-sufficient platform or box if you will, where it can land and take off from automatically. This technology can be used in remote areas and enable operators to pilot the drones remotely.
We also take data security seriously. All our servers are local. Unless it’s going to a client, we don’t send data out of our closed network ever. Our drones protect their data with the Advanced 256-bit Encryption Standard, and finally, even the data transmitted from drone to operator is spread across multiple channels. All this significantly lowers the chances of a breach- and ‘touch wood’ we’ve never suffered one.