Prior to recent technological advances, drones garnered a deadly reputation as killing machines with names like the ‘Predator’ that chased Bin Laden and company around the Middle East on targeted assassination missions. Increased usage in civilian life gave drones a PR face lift. Now, these automated flying robots are becoming a mainstay of the new economy (like a drone serving as a flying umbrella). Drones are so popular that Time Magazine just devoted a special issue to the subject.
With roots in the 1950’s Cold War, this technology was developed in the urgency of the era. Like many innovations used today, such as the Internet and cargo pants, the roots of drone technology began with military applications. As with other formerly closed industries where the barrier to entry has been lowered (i.e., satellites), the cost of drones has plummeted, though they still face several regulatory challenges to bring them into widespread use. Let’s look at some of the practical ways drones can improve our lives.
The most obvious use of drone technology is surveillance; tracking one’s assets in a cost-efficient and automated way which secures an established perimeter. Drones can conduct a full perimeter patrol, avoid any obstacles, utilize existing applications like Google Maps, and do it 24/7 without human guidance. In this way, drones take jobs that few humans have a particular interest in doing.
Drone technology also complements other technologies such as cyber-security measures (by guarding against the hacking of a drone’s operating system) and AI, with drones utilizing computer vision technology to allow them to “see” and recognize images. A significant amount of talent is emanating from the military in this space, such as the IDF, who have developed a robust Air Force drone program and whose alumni are active in developing civilian technologies.
One increasingly popular drone use is airborne delivery. Amazon has already changed the e-commerce game and could set a one-hour shipping standard with drone delivery. While Amazon has invested immense resources into developing this technology it still faces regulatory challenges in using drones to fulfill your Prime order. Amazon has also been left out of the recent Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS)approved by the FAA in 10 select areas across the United States to test drone technologies.
While there is progress here in the United States, other countries such as China could embrace this technology and integrate it more quickly into their economy. And of course, there are safety concerns. It is simply in our nature to be wary of any flying objects swooping down at us. In fact, Amazon was granted patent for delivery drones that can react to screaming voices, flailing arms.
Peter Thiel famously quipped about predicting the future – “we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” He was right on some of his big bets, but maybe not this one. We’re probably on the cusp of seeing flying cars become a reality. Uber leads this initiative with its Uber Elevateprogram; they envision the future of flying cars as drones transporting people. They aim to leverage a technology which is already being developed to shape a reality once only imagined in sci-fi movies.
An example inspired by the military is the Air Mule, or Cormorant, a flying transport which ferries wounded soldiers to safety. Uber is currently looking for cities to test the program out and has opened a research center in Paris. Miami and Dubai are already building Skyports. Flying cars and automated transportation coming together in drone technology will be the first wave of disruption where we “feel” the future has arrived.
Drones are one of the technologies which will change the way we live as we barrel towards a brave new world. The areas of safety and securing these technologies against inevitable hacking attempts and the human penchant to weaponize innovation will continue to grow as ensuring our assets are secure, our package is delivered on time, and our transportation from point A to point B becomes a part of life. Let’s fly high into the future together; you can always rely on Interfor to be your co-pilot on this new journey.