Will Drones Invade Our Skies in the Future?

image credit: James Strong via

image credit: James Strong via

Whether we like it or not, drones are starting to be a part of our daily lives. They zoom above our lawns, hover over concerts, and fly around like giant robotic insects. For some, they’ve become a nuisance but for others, they’ve been a whole lot of help.

Like them or hate them, drones are part of a new technological future. Actually, they’ve been a part of our lives as early as the 1930s. These drones, otherwise called “unmanned aerial vehicles” or UAVs, were used mostly by the military for surveillance operations. One such successful case was during the Vietnam war when  UAVs were used for reconnaissance missions, flying into areas too dangerous for manned flights.

Some sources attribute the name of Abraham E. Karem as the father of the modern drone. The Israeli-born inventor has been involved in the development of UAVs for the US military for decades. His drones have actually been used during the wars in the Middle East, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. It even stirred the media to use the term “drone warfare” as the initiatives against terrorism involved the use of the said machines.

UAVs eventually found their way to the consumer market and today, there are around half a million drones being flown within United States airspace. Only half of the 500,000+ consumer drones are apparently registered with the Federal Aviation Authority or the FAA, the government agency responsible for the regulation of UAVs in the US.

The role of the FAA

The FAA issued a list of guidelines when piloting UAVs. Their so-called “model aircraft operations” issues a strict implementation that drones are to be used for “hobby or recreational purposes only.” As such, safety guidelines are to be followed when flying civil drones:

  • Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
  • Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
  • Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
  • Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying
  • Don’t fly near people or stadiums
  • Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs
  • Don’t be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft

The FAA is quite strict in implementing their rules and further adds the requirement of a permit from their agency should drones be used outside recreational purposes. Drones used for media coverage and aerial photography as a service for example, may require additional permits form the agency.

One issue however is the conflict between FAA and the states who want to impose their own regulations on UAVs. There have been appeals to enforce local and state laws on drones but the Senate keeps firm on the law that upholds the FAA as the single federal regulatory body for UAVs.

image credit: Nicolas Halftermeyer via wikimedia commons

image credit: Nicolas Halftermeyer via wikimedia commons

Drones in the hands of consumers

The surge in consumer purchases of UAVs are driven by a variety of purposes. Though most consumer drones are used for recreational purposes, these devices have found to be useful in various ways.

The media for example have utilized drones to capture aerial views of live events. During the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, CNN used non-flying drones to sneak into places too dangerous for news reporters to cover. Drones were also used for huge gatherings and rallies which usually could not be visually captured by a cameraman on site.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, has also leveraged on the use of drones for delivering goods. Called Amazon Prime Air, products ordered from the website could be delivered right to your doorstep sans the delivery guy. Some say it’s a more efficient and cost-effective idea, but some consumers still value the presence of a human delivering their product to their doorstep.

National Geographic reported that drones will be used surely beyond recreation and delivery. The potential of UAVs could well expand into areas like:

  • Hurricane Hunting
  • 3D Mapping
  • Wildlife Protection
  • Agricultural Support
  • Search and Rescue

For now, drones are mostly used as a pastime, mostly toys flown by some excited albeit irresponsible children. Major UAV companies like Parrot, Sensefly, and 3DR have created a range of drones, from quadcopters like the Parrot Bebop and Albris, to minidrones customizable with Lego pieces.

Chinese companies like Xiaomi and Huawei are also jumping on the drone bandwagon. Rumors have been going around online that the two Chinese tech giants plan to release their own drone products by this year, and it may include some high-powered cameras, possibly challenging the GoPro camera lineup. There has been no confirmation yet from both companies.
As we push forward into the next decade, it seems that drones are gaining a technological momentum. Just like the internet which started out as a military technology, the purpose of UAVs are being transformed dramatically by the consumer market. And it won’t be long when we’ll finally see that planes won’t be the only things flying in the future.