The twenty-first century is seeing a rapid proliferation of aerial vehicles that do not have a human controller on board. In some cases, the pilot is nearby, and in others the pilot is remote, and even half-a-world away. In addition, a century of technological progress has resulted in at least some of the pilot’s functions being performed automatically, particularly aircraft stability in response to turbulence. This may extend to fully autonomous operations, which may or may not be under human supervision, may or may not include automatic detection of out-of-scope conditions and auto-handover to a human pilot, and may or may not be subject to over-ride by the human pilot. With those capabilities come risks. Are those risks being adequately managed, or are measures needed to ensure that they are addressed?
This is a series of four papers that seek answers to those questions. The first paper establishes the basis for the remainder of the series, by providing a survey of the nature of unmanned aircraft, their characteristics, the opportunities that they create, and the risks that they give rise to. The second paper reviews prior literature, in order to identify lessons from relevant technologies. The third and fourth papers examine the regulatory frameworks for public safety, and for behavioural privacy.