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Christmas Eve: Reindeer vs. Drones

Ah, Christmas Eve: That magical night when Santa embarks with the reindeer to do his thing. But as it approaches, some of you may be wondering, who needs Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen et al when drones can do the trick? Why hasn’t St. Nick done a firmware upgrade on his delivery workflow?

There are lots of advantages to replacing the sleigh and reindeer with some weatherproofed drones. Drones don’t eat much, for one thing, other than bandwidth. They can be easily tracked and don’t have to fly as a group (really, Donner and Blixen, can’t you be just a touch more independent, for the sake of productivity?).

And, in the “soft benefit” category, the North Pole may end up being a nicer place: Remember Rudolph not being allowed to play any reindeer games? Drones would never exclude a fellow drone. And presumably there’s no such thing as “drone games” anyway.

But there are arguments for forging ahead in old-school fashion. Santa may find the skies more crowded that night than they ever have been, given that consumers continue to purchase drones (or as they’re more formally known, “unmanned aerial vehicles”) in record numbers. An estimated million new drones could be flying by the end of the year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

As such, drones are also increasingly restricted in how and where they can fly. You see, they’ve been unleashing problems for local airports and no-fly areas. The FAA reported drone safety cases for the first time in October, saying incidents had grown to more than 40 per month. So a drone-based fulfillment process for St. Nick deliveries would simply swap loose shingles and sooty chimneys for mid-air collisions when it comes to the main Christmas Eve hazards. Hardly a decent trade-off.

A task force also recently submitted a proposal to the FAA and Department of Transportation to require fliers to register as drone operators with the government; it could be approved as early as the week before Christmas. Do we want to put surveillance on Santa? Say it ain’t so. What have we become?

And even so, all unmanned vehicles — even the toy-like ones — are covered by federal guidelines. Santa and his sleigh on the other hand? Totally exempt.

“New drones mean more possibilities for problems in the sky and on the ground,” said Tim Underhill, a Ball State telecommunications instructor, who is studying various issues related to drones. “It doesn't matter how big or small the unmanned aerial vehicle is, flight restrictions still apply. “

But this is the most important con: Drones can also be hijacked by cyber-villains. All it takes is the combination of a clever hacker and a dumb manufacturer and hey, presto! Your stocking-stuffers are being fenced somewhere at the local swap meet.

So. Let’s keep Santa and his magical flying reindeer flying, for now. Sometimes, old school is the best school.

Photo © Bobboz

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