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1. Towards a Drone Loan Scheme: Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads!

Imagine this…

It’s 2026 and drones are commonplace in our increasingly automated society: we have drones to help out around the home and in the garden; drones to transport us from A to B – whether self-driving e-bikes, driverless cars or buses; drones that control traffic; drones to support agriculture; drones for filming and photography; drones that deliver goods – overland and by air – that are themselves dispatched from dedicated droneports; drones that tailor advertisements to us as we walk along the street; paparazzi controlled drones; drones that inspect and fix our roads and infrastructure assets; security, police, fire and rescue drones – dronesquads to intercept rogue drones and drones to intercept criminal suspects; drones for conservation and marine life observation; drones operating off-shore to maintain ships, rigs and wind turbines; drones to support the delivery of overseas aid and medical supplies; and, of course, drones for the purposes of military intervention.

Quadcopter

The explosive growth in drones, and in robots and related uses more generally, has transformed our communities. We nowadays work a 21 hour week underpinned by a Universal Basic Income, and our ageing population remains independent for longer as a result of the revolution in public transport and next generation assistive technologies. Robots have disrupted broad-ranging industries together with employment prospects for a significant number of people. STEM skills are considered essential. Employees benefiting from a Drone Pilot License are sought-after by employers, as are those with robot construction, programming and maintenance skills. Hence, Combined Authorities invest in contemporary skills development opportunities to support diverse communities, deploy new forms of planning permission and discounted business rates to stimulate robot economy businesses in their area, and work with partner agencies to operate ‘drone zones’ fuelled by big and real-time data to reflect the need for integrated 3D transport planning.

How do we get there?

How do we travel from here to there? The starting point is the recognition that much of the technology referenced above is already in use or, else, subject to commercial prototyping and trials at the time of writing. Indeed, a recent survey conducted on behalf of the World Economic Forum resulted in a report Deep Shift Technology: Tipping Points and Societal Impact, wherein experts point towards 2021 as the ‘tipping point’ for robots and related services and 2026 for driverless cars. NESTA has argued that the UK lags behind other G7 countries where the introduction of robots and mass automation is concerned – which, they suggest, is benefiting current employment statistics comparatively whilst exerting a negative effect upon productivity. But, it is notable that Ministers are championing commercial aerial drone and driverless car trials, as well as providing funding for a dedicated Transport Catapult at present. In much the same vein, existing regulatory frameworks and management tools lag behind technological developments and are generally considered unfit for purpose, but emergency or short-term measures have been implemented in, for example, China, Japan and the USA to accommodate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) over recent months – with further provisions anticipated there as well as in the EU during 2016/17.

So, our ‘imagine this’ is not mere science fiction – rather, it is coming very soon (or, at least, some version of it is) …

What has this got to do with local authorities?

Very few non-specialist public bodies in the UK appear to be proactively planning for the arrival of our brave new world, despite the imminent culture change (shock) that is implied for public services, private enterprise and our communities alike. We have, for example, encountered very little in the way of publicly documented discussions between local authorities and the Department for Transport or, indeed, the Department for Communities and Local Government in the course of our research. Cambridge and its environs are now host to one of Amazon’s Prime Air R&D Centres and recently served as a test-bed for Google’s driverless cars – such that it serves as an ‘exception to prove the rule’. But, this is as a result of proximity to Cambridge University and associated technology accelerators/businesses, as much as it flows from forward-thinking action taken by Members of the City Deal Board.

Small wonder, then, that skilled robot makers, programmers and maintenance workers are in relatively short supply. And, yet, we are entering a period of accelerated automation – the like of which has not been experienced since the introduction of the assembly line precipitated the Industrial Revolution – such that the time to act to bolster local skills-sets and economies is very patently: now. Given their role in transportation and strategic planning, as well as their responsibility to promote skills and economic development as core members of Local Economic Partnerships and Skills Boards, we believe it makes sense for local authorities to coordinate a forward-thinking response to the implications of technological change for the communities they serve – and a Drone Loan Scheme operated by the libraries they manage could well contribute to the same.

What do we mean by ‘drone loans’?

Drone loans could mean

On this occasion, we’ve taken ‘drone loans’ more literally to mean: public libraries loaning drones to their users. But, there’s plenty of scope to explore those other definitions with interested parties, and we’d love to hear from anyone who’d like to look at them with us.

2. Rationale for a Drone Loan Scheme in Public Libraries

Image Credit: B Ystebo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/desoda/

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