Fans of the TV series 24 are happy that Jack Bauer is back for a new season, and this time one of the major themes is drones—unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—that have been reprogrammed by terrorists.
It’s perhaps unfortunate that, for many people, drones conjure up these negative images—military strikes gone wrong, or unauthorized surveillance, when in fact, outside of that world, drones have myriad useful, exciting, and sometimes entertaining applications.
Here are my personal favorites:
Mail delivery. Most familiar may be Amazon’s announcement last December 1—brilliantly timed for Cyber Monday—in which founder and CEO Jeff Bezos predicted that drones would soon be delivering small packages to your doorstep in a half hour or less via the company’s new Amazon Prime Air service.
Of course, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to work on new regulations for UAVs, but Amazon says it hopes the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as 2015.
Poolside assistance. Apparently, the Marquee Dayclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas hotel has side-stepped FAA regulations. The club started offering champagne delivery via drone this past Memorial Day weekend to their VIP guests. This extra is included for high-rollers who are reportedly already ordering a minimum of $20,000 worth of alcohol.
The drone is getting more attention than any celebrity that has been through the club’s doors in the last six months. This drone is working double shifts though, it was originally acquired by the hotel to take aerial shots for promotional purposes, and then the owners learned it could hold up to eight pounds.
Movie makers. Filmmakers have also been testing the benefits of drones for aerial photography. UAVs enable a unique bird’s eye view while keeping cinematographers safe on the ground.
This video of surfers on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii shows the amazing footage a drone can capture.
There is even a Los Angeles-based company specializing in aerial cinematography called Drone Dudes. The company uses two different types of aerial cinematography drones—the novocopter and the octocopter—to capture shots that were previously deemed impossible.
“I had always been fascinated at tinkering with things, taking them apart and put back together,” says Andrew Petersen, founder of Drone Dudes. “So, when it came time to learn about the possibilities of multi-rotors or ‘drones’ it kind of came naturally.
“That was about four years ago. I had become bored with the standard film tools and found myself looking for something new and exciting. The drone allows filmmakers to dream big and do it in a way that is so unique and different,” Petersen says. “Drones can replace other tools and can cut down on overall production cost – with cameras getting smaller and better every day this undoubtedly looks like the future to me.”
Other commercial uses for drones include crop monitoring, roof and powerline inspection, and even scaring geese off golf courses.
Food and medicine. Humanitarian groups are seeing the potential for drones to help reach people in remote or dangerous locations.
Andreas Raptopoulos, a Greek entrepreneur, has been working on humanitarian uses for drones since 2011 with California-based Singularity University. He reacted with scorn to a recent publicity stunt by Domino’s to deliver two pizzas by drone. “Why the hell would you do that?” he asked. “Why don’t you use the same technology to save somebody’s life when a mother needs medicine or a child needs medicine? To me, this is where technology works best.”
Raptopoulos’ idea spawned Matternet, a network for transporting matter which aims to help the one billion people who do not have year-round access to roads. Similar to the way mobile communications networks have overtaken fixed infrastructures, he sees drones as a transportation method for leapfrogging the building of physical infrastructure, such as roads.
Matternet’s vision is to create the next paradigm for transportation using a network of UVAs. It sees this as a system that creates opportunities and unlocks access.
Lagging regulations for drone use
Currently in the Unites States all aircraft, including unmanned aircraft, are subject to FAA regulation; this includes aircraft operated over private property and at altitudes of 400 feet or below. In fact, the FAA has created a webpage on “Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft.”
However, drone use is surging as the devices become smaller, cheaper and easier to operate. Drones today cost as little as $100 and are easily bought online. Many operators today do not pay close attention to current rules, and the FAA is lagging in updating their formal regulations for drone use.
A near collision in March between a drone and an American Airlines jet flying over Tallahassee, Florida has added to the urgency of getting these regulations updated.
The pilot of the jet encountered the “small, remotely piloted aircraft” at 2,300 feet and thought he may have even collided with it, but inspection of the aircraft found no damage. From the description, it is believed that this may have been a model aircraft flown by hobbyists, but it was far above the 400 foot safety guideline.
The FAA estimates there could be as many as 7,500 drones in U.S. skies within five years, but industry participants believe it will be much higher.
Image courtesy of Matternet