Imagine you’re relaxing on a sunny beach when along comes an annoying buzz that rises above the sound of your radio. It could be a banner plane or a jet-ski — or it could be an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), or drone. Drones are increasingly popular with hobbyists and are used for business in many places around the world. But industrial use of UAS’s in the United States has lagged behind, until now.
This fall, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) convened a task force to develop registration recommendations for UAS’s by November 20. The task force includes an impressive array of representatives from the fields of aviation, law enforcement, and commercial venues who are advising on business as well as safety issues. The goal is to have a registration process to put in place by the end of the year for the safe use of UAS’s.
Big commercial players and recreational users are excited about the coming recommendations. Why? Because the use of UAS’s is expected to grow exponentially. Hobbyists want the joy of having their unmanned aircraft soar through the air. And industries look at the many ways to use miniature aircraft whose small size and weight enable them to enter places that humans otherwise could not reach. UAS’s are suited to streamline processes and lower costs for a wide array of applications from the transporting of goods to information gathering. Together with mobile technologies and the Internet of Things, the opportunities for business innovation are endless. Consider these applications:
- Package delivery: Internet giants and retailers are looking to drones to cut the time and cost of package delivery. To make it work, stakeholders need to ensure air and ground safety, and quality of life issues, particularly in densely populated areas. Companies such as Amazon (Amazon Prime Air), Google X (Project Wing), and Wal-Mart are actively exploring the use of UAS’s for this purpose.
- Photography: Glorious aerial shots of landscapes are no longer just for major motion pictures. Today the technology is available for professionals and amateurs alike to fly a UAS designed with a hookup that can be controlled remotely without having to send a human operator into the air. This adds a whole new dimension to documenting an event, promoting real estate and travel destinations, or just having fun.
- Emergency management: The number one priority following a natural disaster like a hurricane, flood, or earthquake is to save lives. The use of drones with cameras and sensors could provide invaluable visibility and information for search and rescue.
- Precision agriculture: Knowing and adjusting the precise growing conditions of soil, weather, irrigation, and nutrient uptake can make the difference between a crop that thrives and one that struggles. A variety of technologies for imaging and data intake will find drones an efficient means of gathering information.
- Medicine: City residents expect the convenience of picking up needed medications at the local branch of a drugstore chain, but in rural areas, branches may be few and far between. Drones have already been approved for use in some circumstances to deliver medicines and supplies to locations that are hard to reach by road vehicle.
These are just a few of the potential applications of UAS’s. Whatever the logistical and regulatory hurdles, the sky’s the limit for manufacturers of drones and associated solutions. And the doors are wide open to the creators of innovative software solutions to acquire and manage information accessed by drone. Who will design the systems necessary drone operation? And how will remote pilots be trained to safely and effectively operate and monitor the flights of small unmanned aircraft?
For more on how regulation could clip the wings of drones, see Will Regulation Kill Drones?
Audrey Merwin is a writer and editor who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.