‘Blue skies thinking’ on drones and autonomous vehicles needed in election manifestos, say lawyers

Rufus BallasterLawyers at one of the first City law firms to develop a specialism in the legal issues around drones and autonomous vehicles have called on the parties to employ some ‘blue skies thinking’ in their general election manifestoes with pledges on the emerging technologies.

Rufus Ballaster, a Partner at Carter Lemon Camerons LLP and Eleanor Clot, a consultant to the firm’s drones and autonomous technologies team, said they were keen to see specific commitments in the parties’ manifestos, expected to be published next week.

Rufus and Eleanor are, along with Carter Lemon Camerons LLP Partner Andrew Firman, currently writing a book on drone law, entitled A Practical Guide to Drone Law, which is targeted at a professional legal audience.

Rufus said: “With Brexit and immigration topping the bill of what the parties must address from a policy point of view, one might think that innovative transportation systems would be an irrelevance.

“Yet the parties cannot develop effective transport, industrial and commercial strategies without considering the implications of emerging technologies. Some ‘blue skies thinking’ is required.

“The white heat of the technological revolution today is less in the mining of coal, nor the mass production of steel or concrete. Rather it is more in the entrepreneurial pushing of the boundaries of power source efficiencies and the use of GPS technology not merely to inform a human at the wheel, but also to plot and steer a course in a driverless vehicle.”

Eleanor echoed Rufus’ comments, adding: “The UK Civil Aviation Authority has always been a global leader in the development of the aviation industry, both in engineering and regulation, but in the drone industry it is currently in danger of falling behind.

“The European Aviation Safety Agency is devoting significant resources to the development of new drone regulation which will soon become the status quo across Europe. Therefore, despite Brexit, the UK should continue to contribute to the Prototype EU Regulations and engage with the European authorities on this issue, to avoid falling out of touch with the rest of Europe.

“It’s rather cliché to say but technology is the future and if the UK doesn’t recognise and plan appropriately for it, we will suffer as a consequence.”

The fall in the value of the pound over the last year has led, according to Rufus, to a situation when the UK’s drone and autonomous vehicle industries are ripe for investment.

He said: “Now is a good time to be looking for inbound investment into companies in this sector which should, if successful, see spectacular growth.

“Drones are not tiny insignificant things people do not encounter and do not care about, nor are autonomous transportation systems things of science fiction anymore. The Docklands Light Railway, airport transit trains and Tesla cars can all run without input from drivers and with incredibly good safety records.

“If the UK fails to back this technology, if the next Government of this country has no drone or autonomous vehicles strategy, other countries with high levels of technological competence and a passion for innovation will develop things which this country will import.

“As a result, huge numbers of jobs and profits will be generated in those other countries.”

Rufus said that a party which has an effective, credible and considered drones and autonomous vehicles strategy woven into its manifesto would be a party to take seriously as a party of power to push the UK forward to better times ahead.

“It needs a strategy which can take off and fly, without need for human intervention, but with resulting improvement for the lives of the UK’s citizens and the tax receipts of the UK state”, said Rufus.