Dr. Boris Galkin and a drone

Dr. Boris Galkin will investigate civilian drone technology and its future in Ireland during a three-month residency in the Oireachtas. Dr. Galkin is one of six researchers seconded to the Houses of the Oireachtas Library & Research Service as part of the SFI (Science Foundation Ireland) public service fellowship programme.

This year, Ireland saw its first drone delivery services, as an Irish-based company trialled a drone delivery service in Moneygall, Co. Offaly, to deliver medication and other items to self-isolating residents during the first lockdown. As of the time of writing, the same company is running a trial with Tesco in Oranmore, Co. Galway to deliver food by drone to nearby customers. The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of this drone technology, spurred by physical distancing measures and increased demand for online shopping. However, this is only the latest development in a clear trend. Over the past decade, drone technology has matured from a children’s toy to a valuable tool.

With maturity came the widespread adoption of drone technology in a number of consumer, commercial and service sectors, ranging from professional film making to emergency search and rescue. As of 2017 the Dublin Fire Brigade operates its own drone fleet, for use during emergency incidents as an “eye in the sky”. The Civil Defence uses drones of their own for similar purposes. The Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland boasts over 60 member organisations, comprising mostly of small commercial entities that offer drones for surveying and photography work.

As drones become an increasingly visible part of Irish life, legislators and elected representatives will need to navigate the growing landscape of issues and challenges surrounding the technology. In addition to all of its benefits, drone technology has the potential to cause serious issues. The now-infamous incident at Gatwick Airport saw a single drone shut down all flights for around two days on December of 2018, stranding tens of thousands of passengers. Dublin Airport was briefly shut down in February of 2019 due to a rogue drone flying near the runway. To minimise the threat of drones while maximising their social benefit, legislators need to have a clear understanding of what the technology is, what its limitations are, and where the technology is heading.

Dr. Boris Galkin of Trinity College is a research fellow of the CONNECT centre for future networks and communications, where he works on integrating drone technology into the mobile phone network of the future. With six years of experience carrying out cutting-edge research in the drone technology domain, Dr. Galkin hopes to inform Oireachtas Members and the parliamentary community more generally about this rapidly growing field. As part of the Fellowship, Dr. Galkin will prepare a Spotlight paper looking at the economic, social and ethical implications of drone technology.

Dr. Galkin, along with Dr. Rónán Kennedy, commenced his residency on 5 October. A total of six researchers have been seconded to the L&RS under the SFI public service fellowship programme. The purpose of the SFI public service fellowship programme is to enable academics to leverage their expertise by engaging with organisations in the public sector on issues relevant to their research. The Oireachtas Library & Research Service is a host organisation under the scheme. The fellowship provides an opportunity for researchers in residence to see how the Oireachtas works from the inside and ways in which they can be more effective in communicating their research to Members of the Oireachtas. The fellowship provides the L&RS and Members the opportunity to find out about emerging research in science and technology and the implications, impact and opportunities science creates.