Monday, February 08, 2021

As drones get ready to deliver, IISc finds way to aid privacy

Bengaluru: Global advancements in the field and domestic developments — Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) too has given permission to 13 consortia for delivery experiments — indicate that use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) or drones for delivery may become a reality sooner than later in India.

While delivery drones hold the promise of revolutionising goods transportation, they also have some privacy issues to deal with given that such vehicles are typically equipped with a variety of sensors, such as cameras, microphones, GPS, and Lidar (method for measuring distances by illuminating the target with laser light).

Arguing that a malicious drone fleet service operator could misuse these sensors to turn drones into flying spies, researchers from the Indian Institute of Science’s (IISc) department of computer science and automation have developed “Privaros” — a set of enhancements to the drone software stack, which allows “host airspaces” (apartment complexes, universities or city municipalities for example) to ensure that “guest” delivery drones visiting the airspace are privacy-compliant.

A number of countries are actively developing policies to regulate how drones can be operated. This work shows how Privaros can be integrated with upcoming policy frameworks, such as India’s Digital Sky framework, IISc says.

“Privaros is designed for commercial delivery drones, such as the ones that will likely be used by Amazon Prime Air. Such drones visit various host airspaces, each of which may have different privacy requirements. The framework uses mandatory access control to enforce the policies of these hosts on guest delivery drones. Privaros is tailored for ROS (robot operating system), a middleware popular in many drone platforms,” the researchers added.

In India, the first consortium to receive DGCA clearance under Digital Sky framework for an experiment to test delivery drones were from Bengaluru and TOI was the first to report this in March 2020. Since then, 12 more consortia have got DGCA clearances.

Prof Vinod Ganapathy and team’s Privaros incorporates new mechanisms into the drone software stack that allow such host-specified policies on board the drone. Trusted hardware on board the drone can be used to prove to the host airspace that the guest drone is in compliance with its policies, according to an IISc statement.

Ganapathy told TOI: “We have a working prototype that has proven the concepts.” The team has evaluated Privaros on an Nvidia Jetson TX2 development kit, motivated by the fact that unlike most off-the-shelf drones, it is equipped with a hardware TEE (trusted execution environment) and allows programmable access to both the secure world and the normal world.

The specification of the Jetson board is similar in architecture to the companion boards of commercially available drones. “It also consists of 256 Nvidia CUDA cores, making it the companion board of choice for navigation software that makes extensive use of graphics processing units, e.g., those that use deep learning based navigation. We reflashed the normal world of this board with a Privaros-enhanced software stack,” the researchers said.

Their evaluation shows that a drone running Privaros can robustly enforce various privacy policies specified by hosts, and that its core mechanisms only marginally increase communication latency and power consumption.

07/02/21 Chethan Kumar/Times of India

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