Italy: AI And Drones, A Love Affair (Part I)

Last Updated: 7 December 2018
Article by Giangiacomo Olivi

Drones' universe is one of the most explosive industries on a global scale. Today's drones are utilized for a number of different purposes, ranging from military to commercial usage. The capability of drones to record great amounts of data gave birth to the so-called AI or "intelligent" drones, which function based on AI algorithms.

One of the main innovative characteristics of drones is their capability to collect and process great amounts of data, including personal data, which is often difficult to manage. This implies that the future usage of drones will be increasingly linked to data analytics and AI patterns and algorithms.

More specifically, automated drones, when perceiving objects of the exterior world through their sensors (e.g. stereo-optical, electro-optical sensors) are effectively taking advantage of processes of "machine perception", namely one of the basic AI processes. Drones collect raw data, which will then be analysed to extract useful information through a process based upon Computer Vision software, manual programming and machine learning algorithms, often with cross-datasets processing. Drones are increasingly advantaged from the so-called "deep learning" algorithms, which are aimed at undertaking decision-making processes that "repeal" human brain's functioning (deep learning is substantially based on the use of neural networks which consist of different layers responsible for a determined task that make it possible to imitate some of human brain's decision-making processes).

Given that drones collect a huge amount of data, the capability of drones to interact with Internet traffic has given rise to security concerns as drones may have cyber vulnerabilities. One of the main producers of drones has recently launched a mode that prevents interaction with Internet traffic with the app when the drone is in flight. The purpose is to provide enhanced data privacy assurances for specific sensitive customers; when the mode is on, the app will not collect the localization of the user nor show a map of the no fly zones.

Drones structured on the basis of the described AI algorithms will be utilized increasingly in many different fields, from environment protection to military usage (for instance, replacing risky surveillance carried out by humans) and commercial purposes (for instance, a global retail operator has launched drone-delivery models that use Internet connection for automated object detection).

The drone industry is currently subject to important changes and implications, starting from the preeminent need to comply with the new stringent European data protection laws.

But what are the new European laws' main implications, and what is Italy expected to do?

The new European regulations. Are we all aligned?

The use of drones has been affected recently by two regulations: the general data protection regulation no. 2016/679 (GDPR) and regulation no. 2018/1139.

GDPR, as widely known, has introduced a number of new requirements when it comes to processing personal data, most of which are up to the drones' manufacturers (e.g. running a DPIA before implementing a new software for a drone, creating the mechanism respecting privacy by design and privacy by default systems). Notwithstanding the above, it is worth mentioning that processing personal data is still required to be in line with the same main principles applied under the previous data protection national laws, at least with regard to Italy. This means that the usage of drones is permitted when information notice is provided to the data subjects and, generally speaking, their consent must be collected before spreading content on the Internet.

In addition, European institutions, on the basis of the European Aviation Safety Agency's (EASA) proposal, recently approved the regulation no. 2018/1139 on drones (Drones Regulation), replacing the so called European "basic regulation" no. 216/2008 "on common rules in the field of civil aviation". Unlike the "basic regulation", which did not apply to drones (also defined as "unnamed aircraft systems or UAS") that weight less than 150 kg, the new regulation applies to all drones, notwithstanding their weight and size.

The new regulation sets specific standards of security and safety following a "risk-based approach", similarly to what is already set up with the GPPR.

Despite the approval of this new regulation on drones, European institutions are still required to enact, mostly in the next two years, executive and delegated acts providing more precise rules on a number of aspects of the regulation. In the meantime, national laws on drones' utilization will still apply, even if it is clear that national Authorities will have to undertake a process of alignment with the new European provisions.

The differences between the Drones Regulation and the Italian framework

As for Italy, the above alignment process will not be easy to achieve in the short term, as the Drones Regulation differs substantially with the Italian regulation [...] enacted by the Ente Nazionale l'Aviazione Civile (ENAC).

The main differences include the abolishment of ENAC's main distinction between "model aircraft", used for sport and recreational purposes, and "remote-controlled aircraft systems" - also known as "SAPR"- , used for all purposes different from sport and recreation. Indeed all drones will be classified under the common denomination of "Unmanned Aircraft" (UA). The distinction between sport flight, specialized non-critical operations and specialized critical operations will no longer exist. Instead, different drones' flight conditions will be taken into account. There will be new rules for pilots of drones that fly above people, away from people and close to people. In addition, according to the new European standards, drones will be divided into five categories (ranging from C0 to C4).

Another important innovation is the obligation to register the drone in a special register of drones or in a special register for pilots. The only drones exempt from such registration are those weighing less than 250 grams and that carry a camera with a resolution of less than five Megapixels. Lastly, according to the new European regulation, all drones will have to bear a CE mark in order to be distinguished from the ones imported from extra EU countries.

All the above will raise liability concerns. In the near future we will discuss AI drones and liability. In the meantime let us know if you want to discuss this topic further, and do not forget to sign up to our TMT Bits Newsletter!

This article was co-authored by Fabia Cairoli ( and Valeria Schiavo (

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