What You Need to Know About Drone Technology in ASEAN

drone in the evening sky

Drones, more formally known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs), were historically used for military purposes in the EU. Prior to the first World War, Austria launched the first air raid with explosive unmanned balloons. Since then, drone technology has become central to most countries’ national security strategy from counterinsurgency in urban areas to counter terrorism on the skies.

Today, drones have even driven many new exciting practical applications in various domains. In recent years, drones have gained popularity among commercial and individual users in Asia as a result of market push and pull factors. The cost of drones as listed on the Lazada website can be as little as RM160, making the device widely accessible.

Related: Looking Back at 2017: Top 3 Tech Developments Every Malaysian Should Know

Breaking Down the Benefits of Drone Technology

Drone technology encompass three essential features that show a promising innovation: 1) portability, 2) remoteness and 3) flexibility. Firstly, for business operating in the logistics industry, the first two feature could potentially increase the flow and speed of the transportation. A miniature drone could be the size of a human palm. Rather than relying on traditional road or rail transportation, one could use drones to deliver small items or parcels to the end users. This not only reduces pollution but also decreases unnecessary wastage in throughput time. As mentioned by Griffiths, companies like Amazon have been shown a glimpse into cross-border navigation after the successful quadcopter test from northern France to Dover in the UK.

The benefits of drone are not only limited to the logistics industry. Most entities in the public and private sector have foreseen the benefits of this invention, ranging from the social contribution in wildlife conservation and medicine transportation to striving economic opportunity in the agriculture sector. For farmers, as explained by Paneque-Gálvez, rather than manually assessing crop health, they can now utilise drone-carried devices to scan crops and track changes through the multispectral images from the machine.

Related: Revolutionising Agriculture: The Rise of Urban Farmers in ASEAN

Potential Risks & Privacy Issues

While it is clear that the pliability of drones can positively impact process flows in businesses, drone technologies can also lead to risks and challenges for ASEAN policy-maker in the area of privacy, data security and safety standard. Due to its ability to remain under the radar, it provides a new perspective on mass surveillance of individuals through embedded long lenses and panoptic functions. It is also a convenient tool for photojournalists, paparazzi, and curiosity-driven amateurs as it enables access to any vantage point in private or public spaces effortlessly.

Furthermore, although security encryption has significantly improved over the years, drones remain vulnerable to hackers. As demonstrated by Planet Zuda, the operation of drones can be easily hijacked using simple a WIFI connection and text commands. The remoteness feature of drone technology could elicit safety issues that threaten personal well-being and potentially trigger catastrophic events such as terrorism. In China, a man has been detained by police for navigating drone that caused a crash on a railway line forcing a high-speed train to make an emergency stop.

Optimising for Positive Disruption in ASEAN

In summary, drone technology represents the avant-garde that could disrupt most industries in ASEAN, leading to the next futuristic innovation. Under this rapid diffusion of civil drone, businesses in the landscape of ASEAN faces questions about how to promote this innovation to maximise its positive benefits. As the famous quote stated, “It is better to late than never.” Yet, for policy-makers in ASEAN, the remarkable growth of civil drone also has provoked some negative issues, which triggers certain obligations. In order to maximize the benefit of drone innovation, an integrated framework is needed for ASEAN policy maker to tackle some of the potential challenges above.


Written by: Soon Kiat Ker

Ker obtained his master degree from the University of Cambridge. Throughout his career, he has been working in tech-related fields such as big data, block-chains and Artificial Intelligence in 500 Fortunes Companies. Specific interests of himself include technology policy in emerging markets and digital transformation for SMEs.


Feature Image is CC0 Licensed: Free for Commercial Use, No Attribution Needed

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