Drones: are they on their way to becoming ubiquitous in the Caribbean?

​Globally, use of drones has been and will continue to increase into the foreseeable future. However, will that be the experience in the Caribbean?

Over the past two years or so, the term, drones, has become more widely known. They are not only commercially available for personal use, but many businesses, especially those that ship goods, such as Amazon.com, Fedex, DHL and UPS, are also exploring the use of drones to make deliveries to their customers. With all the excitement about drones, generally, the question must be asked when might we, here in the Caribbean, experience more extensive use of drones?

What is a drone?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS), which more colloquially are known as drones are unmanned, yet remotely controlled, aerial devices. Radio controlled aircrafts have been in use by the military, since the 1950s, to assist in fighter pilots combat training. Thereafter, they also evolved into recreational use, as model airplanes that are popular with children and hobbyists alike.

As remotely controlled devices typically, drones operate in the 2.4—5.8 GHz band, which according the frequency band plan for the United States is reserved for Wi-Fi. However, some of them use frequencies in the 900 MHz band, which is also a widely used band for mobile/cellular communications.

Key benefits and applications

In being unmanned – without a human pilot – drones are especially useful in situations where manned flights are considered too risky or difficult. Additionally, using drones can be a more cost effective option than manned aircrafts, particularly when the routes are simple and covering relatively short distances. Accordingly, drones are widely used for aerial photography; land surveying, and for recreational purposes. Also, increasingly, they are being used in logistics and for making deliveries.

Will drones become ubiquitous in the Caribbean?

In a nutshell, extensive drone use in the Caribbean is still several years away. Currently, there are concerns on many fronts: telecoms, security, and even civil aviation. With regard to telecoms, and although the devices tend to use spread spectrum technology, the small size of many of our countries, and their close proximity to each other, means that their signal power to maintain control of a drone, could be a possible source of interference. In matters related to security and civil aviation, the concerns tend to be about such devices being in unauthorised areas.

As a result, the policies that would guide the importation and use of drones in most Caribbean countries are still being developed. As it currently stands, and across most of the region, drone importation is strictly controlled – either they have been banned outright, or special permits (or authorisations) must be secured to permit them for specific uses.  It therefore means that we still have a way to go before drones – and the use of drones – gain any significant foothold in the region.


Image credit:   Richard Unten (flickr)