Safety, preventing job loss priorities for drone makers, Mexican expert says

Students fly drones during the Mexican Robotics Tournament on March 22, 2019, in Guadalajara, Mexico. EPA-EFE/Francisco Guasco

Students fly drones during the Mexican Robotics Tournament on March 22, 2019, in Guadalajara, Mexico. EPA-EFE/Francisco Guasco


With drones expected to be completely autonomous in a few years, the priorities for designers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) should be safety and preventing job losses, Mexican Robotics Federation president Marco Morales told EFE.

The drone expert told EFE during the 10th Mexican Robotics Tournament on Saturday in this western Mexican city that the operation of UAV without human controllers was still in its early stage.

Morales said, however, that self-flying drones would soon be a reality.

Self-flying drones operating with artificial intelligence (AI) and no human at the controls could pose a danger to people on the ground, Morales said.

People could be hurt by the blades of the fast-spinning propellers on drones, the expert said.

Drones operated by AI will make their own in-flight decisions, pushing the limits on how freely they function, Morales said.

“This makes drones inherently more dangerous,” the expert said, adding that a public debate will be needed to decide what technical limitations will be placed on UAV and what kind of safety regulations will have to be issued.

While self-flying drones are still in the experimental stage, the new technology will mark a step forward in the UAV market.

Autonomous drones will be equipped with sensors, cameras and AI, allowing them to react to certain situations and identify places and objects so they can interact with them, Morales, a professor at the Autonomous Technology Institute of Mexico, said.

In the not too distant future, drones will be used to move objects from one place to another, guard air space, monitor farm fields and, perhaps, even help harvest certain crops.

Drones may eventually be able to carry out precise tasks that only humans can currently perform.

“We’re going to have capabilities that we didn’t have before, such as for observing crops in real time and identifying areas where there may be some kind of blight. That’s something you couldn’t do so easily before, not even with planes because they lacked the capability to see with such detail,” Morales said.

As a result, drones may someday take jobs from humans, a problem that specialists in the field are debating.

“An individual losing their job is a real (possibility). You have to understand that perhaps jobs will be created for a certain group, but others will be displaced, and you have to come up with options for them,” Morales said.

The Mexican Robotics Tournament, which ended on Saturday in Guadalajara, drew more than 1,000 participants, ranging from elementary school students to graduate students.

The tournament awarded prizes in a number of areas for robots and drones.

Joaquin Campos, co-organizer of the event, told EFE that “we are taking the first steps toward making robots that will play a role in people’s daily lives.”

Robotics competitions are important because they give students a place where they can present prototypes that they will later improve with new software, allowing them to perform different tasks, Campos said.

By Mariana Gonzalez.