The FAA Announces National Registration of Drones Tops 1 Million

Image: Joshua Goldman/CNET

Controversy, technical concerns, and court rulings have plagued the drone registration process from its inception.  Regardless as to the legality of the requirements for hobbyists to register, tracking and identification of drones has become the most important topic in the industry.

Most recently, new rules for flight over people were removed from the Office of Management and Budget review, likely due to security concerns from DHS in their ability to identify, track, and mitigate risks. Registration for all drones and their operators is the first step in developing a tracking and identification systems that protect society and deter bad actions from otherwise reasonable people.

Identifying a drone to an owner will have an ameliorating effect on behaviour; we’ve seen that when people can hide through anonymity they often act with less compassion, less attention, and less responsibility.

Participation by the industry is a major hurdle as we’ve seen less than half of all drones being registered each year. The announcement that drone registrations passed the 1 million mark demonstrates both the success of a growing industry and failure of the program to engage even a majority of the participants with negligible enforcement or education. Of the 1 million, 878,000 registered as hobbyists (who may list one or more drone in a single filing) and 122,000 registered as commercial or government pilots (who get 1 craft per filing).

One estimate from the Consumer Technology Association placed the number of drone sales, eligible for registration, in 2016 at 825,000 with an expected growth of 117% for 2017. This begs the question, how do more effectively encourage registration? Is there a way to manage identification and tracking without voluntary submission? Is it worth the effort if enforcement is negligible?

Analysis by Harrison Wolf, Drone Project Lead for the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.