As Global Chief Innovation Officer at EY, Jeff Wong helps companies harness disruptive technology and prepare for the future of work.

Modern technology’s remarkable advances continue to reshape the way we live, work and play. But more than ever, we must be careful what we wish for: Some game-changing innovations are also unleashing new and potentially ominous challenges—on the ground and in the air.

Enterprises across the globe, for example, are already learning how various drone technologies can deliver both immense value and daunting consequences. When in the wrong hands, the same drones that can help them create transformative new services for customers and remove their workers from hazardous situations can also prove disruptive, even dangerous.

For many business leaders looking to explore drones’ many benefits, the potential risks could even hold them back—from threats to their physical infrastructure to customer privacy and safety to the safety of their employees working in open-air facilities.

That’s why the rapidly evolving counter-drone technology sector is so critical and encouraging. There’s no question drones represent amazing new opportunities for enterprises worldwide, but enhanced drone security technologies and strengthened regulatory controls worldwide can give more business leaders the confidence they need to actively invest in this still-evolving technology.

Drone Technology’s Bright Promise—And Potential Dark Side

In just the past few years, we’ve seen plenty of headlines—both spectacular and unsettling—regarding the growing impact and presence of drones in our world.

• Drone technologies have taken us to new places and shown us more of the natural world than ever before possible. But untold numbers of travelers have also been impacted by the unauthorized presence of drones temporarily grounding commercial aircraft—even shutting down airports worldwide. Industry experts recently estimated that the mere presence of a drone can cost airport operators more than $100,000 a minute.

• In 2022 alone, the drone intelligence firm DroneSec recorded 2,554 major illicit drone incidents—up by 60% from 2021. While some of these incidents were carried out by irresponsible hobbyists, others represented the latest efforts of innovative criminals looking for new weak spots in businesses’ security arrangements.

Counter-drone Technologies Are Emerging Rapidly

Fortunately, as drones become more sophisticated, so too is the emerging array of counter-drone technologies specifically designed to deter irresponsible operators and ward off bad actors. Also known as “anti-drone” devices and defense systems, they include solutions that feature a mix of sensors, radio-frequency detection, lasers, cameras and more to detect, distract or destroy unwanted drones.

Counter-drone products and solutions are also benefiting from the same technologies that have been transforming other areas of business. For example, AI should increasingly assist in identifying drone threats and help detect the navigation capabilities of collision drones. The ongoing advances in both drone and counter-drone technology sectors can be compared to those across the world of cybersecurity, where cybercriminals and security experts are locked in constant competition to outpace each other’s latest moves.

The counter-uncrewed aviation systems (CUAS) market that represents this critical counter-drone niche is developing fast: industry analysts project that the global anti-drone market will climb to $7.4 billion in the next ten years.

Evolving Counter-Drone Regulations Will Be Equally Critical

However, even though impressive counter-drone technologies are already available, many cannot be deployed currently due to varying regulations concerning the use of airspace around the world.

U.S. law, for example, classifies drones as small aircraft—interfering with them is equivalent to interfering with a commercial jet. The current guidelines are meant to stop landowners from attempting to shoot down drones overhead and prevent spoofing techniques from being used to send drones into the flight paths of other aircraft.

But guidelines like these are being reviewed and retooled around the world. Last April, for instance, the White House issued a Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan to prompt new legislation so that state authorities and other governmental agencies can employ industry-approved counter-drone technologies—and also give more businesses permission to use them.

The EU’s executive body is also requesting input from the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) sector to help establish common guidelines for counter-drone technologies and identify effective threat mitigation platforms. These robust efforts would complement each EU member state’s own counter-drone plan and response rules as well as their preferred technology.

What’s Next For Counter-Drone Tech

These and other recent efforts from governments and regulators around the world are certainly welcome, and more jurisdictions are expected to work on their respective regulations for drone and counter-drone technologies. Increased regulatory clarity means businesses will be able to use counter-drone systems with far greater confidence—and it will encourage more innovators and entrepreneurs to develop new generations of counter-drone technologies to protect companies’ key infrastructures, employees and consumers worldwide.

But improved regulation will not be the only key to the wider adoption of anti-drone technologies in the years ahead. Steep acquisition and operation costs and the need for user training could dissuade some organizations with limited resources. Interoperability issues among various anti-drone devices and systems on the market could also hinder companies’ capabilities for defending against the widening array of potential drone threats.

Despite these challenges, there’s no question that drone technologies will ultimately figure prominently in the future plans of more and more enterprises worldwide. Just as today’s digital technologies need sophisticated cyber-protections to realize their full potential, counter-drone devices and systems will enable drones to realize their extraordinary business potential—and help this transformative technology sector soar.

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