The short answer is: “yes, there will almost certainly be a drone in your future”. We have seen some use of drones for aerial photographs, some use for inspection of power lines and pipelines, and for limited commercial purposes. My first experience was at an outdoor concert in Colorado that was being recorded through the use of a drone (which also was useful in locating a lost child at the end of the concert).
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has just released its rules, and that is good since it defines what uses can be made of drones and at what altitudes they can be deployed. The FAA has yet to address the use of drones for package deliveries such as has been discussed as future uses by Amazon and others. They are setting about that work now.
For now, drones can be operated by people certified by the FAA who are at least 16 years old and who have passed a certification test once every two years showing they can safely pilot a drone. We now will have FAA-licensed commercial drone operators. The maximum altitude for these drones is 400 feet, the drones can only be used in the daytime and cannot weigh more than 400 lbs. We know that this altitude limit has been violated regularly by drones affecting landing patterns for commercial airliners. Pilots have reported drone sightings at thousands of feet of altitude.
We, of course, have seen military drones used for a long time in combat roles as well as for observation. NASA is developing an air traffic control system for these low-flying drones. This is a relatively new industry but the forecasts are for this industry to become an $82 billion industry that will create more than 100,000 new jobs in the next 10 years. Who made that forecast? The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, that’s who. If there is already an ‘international’ association, this must be a big deal.
Along with the good that can come from the use of drones is the other side of the coin. We know there will be an abuse of privacy; that is simply inevitable with this technology. There will be drone use by policing agencies and that will be challenged in court cases almost certainly. Criminals will be able to “case the joint” with increased ease making studies of patterns of occupancy and noting the absence of employees in buildings thus making them accessible to crime.
With everything good, it seems the bad side to the technology improvements evolves almost overnight. Are sunbathers going to be targeted by oglers? Are exhibitionists going to have access to the use of drones to ‘show their wares’? Will drone pilots with video cameras mounted ‘steal’ event footage formerly sold by streaming live?
It is difficult to imagine the potential uses for which drones will become regularly employed. We can rest assured that the people with the ideas are already putting their plans into action, and now they can do so within the scope of federal regulations. We’ll see how many violators we hear of within the next year. For some, it seems, regulations are made simply to be broken.