The future of the skies is being defined this week in Zurich, Switzerland, as the most progressive government and industry leaders dedicate themselves to advancing autonomous aviation, through community engagement, in the interest of society.

The challenges facing drones and personal aerial transport are many, and well-defined solutions that propel these technologies forward are relatively few. All over the world, a patchwork of regulations, overseen by governments more used to decade-long certification life-cycles than monthly software updates, look for data to overcome dramatic gaps in governance processes. To overcome these challenges it has never been more necessary that a community of innovators come together to drive agile policymaking.

 Industries where drones could take off
Industries where drones could take off

New paradigms in drone regulations are being designed and piloted all over the world with a renewed focus on opening the skies to maximize the benefit to society while mitigating the risk to people and sensitive infrastructure. While many governments work together to develop tools to understand and adapt to changes in industrial technologies, they must bear in mind the differences in airspace, approaches to privacy, and needs of the state that differ from nation to nation.

While bringing together progressive aviation policymakers is an important foundation, it is the multi-stakeholder community of civil society leaders, entrepreneurs from the technology community, academic mentors, and industry experts that provide context and input that are unique to the World Economic Forum mission. Policymaking that redefines and reinforces a future, inclusive of all society can only take place in an environment of collaboration, consensus, and engagement that leverages all of these viewpoints.

If regulations are the operating system of an industry, it is the protocols and best practices that act as the applications that enable industries to perform. To create a future of free flight, we must create interoperable, replicable, inclusive, and traceable oversight that enables innovation while mitigating risk. The Drone Innovator’s Network will act as a catalyst to ensure these best practices begin to take shape.

Regulations we implement today will define the operating systems of tomorrow; shaping the very way technology develops and democratizes the sky for humanity.

Will the future skies resemble an open-source, free domain where people and cargo move around like the people in the popular American cartoon show from the 60s The Jetsons – constantly swerving and diving to destinations at will? Will aviation transportation be handled by a single authority that ensures safe, but ultimately rigid movement?

Clearly, there is a long way to go to realize this technological evolution, but the rules and policies we implement today will have a dramatic impact on how the future takes shape.