Drone-Firemen-3For every emergency situation, a city’s first response 
will be to “get eyes on” the situation

Yes, drones have been around for a long time and the military has already committed countless billions to drone R&D, but when a U.S. Senator dedicates 13 hours to filibuster the topic of drones, it signals far more than a token political move.

Drones have taken center stage and an anxious and eager public is waiting to see what comes next.

Along with the political headlines come the opportunity-spotters who can sense a host of major business opportunities ahead.

Lawyers will begin to specialize in drone law, schools will begin offering classes in drone repair, new trade associations will be formed around specific industry niches, law enforcement experts will specialize in drone-related crimes, businesses will offer drone services, politicians will begin to wrestle with drone legislation, and drones will become a featured technology in TV shows, movies, novels, radio talk shows, and newspaper articles.

At the same time, the FAA will struggle to formulate a strategy for managing airspace when we have the potential for tens of thousands of flying drones crisscrossing the skies on a daily basis.

So where do we go from here?

Spotting an early stage forest fire 

Looking for Mr. Good Drone

Living in Colorado, where people are constantly hiking, camping, skiing, or climbing mountains, it’s easy to become enamored with the beauty of our surroundings. But sometimes accidents happen and the tiny campfire we built to keep us warm gets out of control and rapidly turns into a full-scale forest fire.

During the first few minutes, between the time when a fire first starts and it reaches a point of being out of control, is a containment window where only a few gallons of water or a few pounds of fire retardant is necessary to put the evil genie back into the bottle.

Using a fleet of surveillance drones, equipped with special infrared cameras, fires could be spotted during the earliest moments of a containment window, signaling a fleet of extinguisher drones to douse the blaze before anything serious happens.

Drones specifically designed for extinguishing forest fires have the potential for eliminating over 90% of the devastating fires that blanket newspaper headlines every summer. Whether or not eliminating fires altogether is good for the long-term health of forests is certainly another topic for discussion, but this is a clear example of how drone technology can be used to alleviate one of mankind’s biggest problems.

Putting out a fire before it gets too large

But, as we know, not everything about drone technology is good. Somewhere along the lines we’ll be forced to decide if the advantages of the good drones outweigh the disadvantages of the bad drones.

As a technology, a flying drone can extend the reach of an individual by hundreds, even thousands of miles. They can skim along the surface of the earth and avoid detection by traditional radar systems.

A good drone, used to deliver pizza and packages, can also be a bad drone delivering bombs, drugs, or poison.

The same drone that can spot a forest fire can be used to spy on corporate executives, government officials, or military activity.

An evil person, coupled with the power of a drone, could bring down a commercial aircraft, start fires in buildings, sever power lines, cause car accidents, poison our water supplies, or drop a viral contagion onto a crowd of people.

As most people already know, the power to protect, placed in the wrong hands, quickly becomes the power to destroy.

In much the same way the networking effect of Internet has given rise to virus-builders intent on destroying the work of others, the white-hat drone industry will have to deal with a wide range of black-hat destructionists.

 Channel 5 reporting on a car accident as it’s happening

The right to keep and and bear drones

Does the Second Amendment of the U.S. that gives us the “right to keep and bear arms,” also give us the “right to keep and and bear drones?”

Or does it only give us the right to own guns capable of shooting down drones?

A new bill recently passed by congress and signed into law by the President has taken a major first step. A recent article in the New York Times summarizes it this way:

“Under the new law, the F.A.A. must allow police and first responders to fly drones under 4.4 pounds, as long as they keep them under an altitude of 400 feet and meet other requirements. The agency must also allow for “the safe integration” of all kinds of drones into American airspace, including those for commercial uses, by Sept. 30, 2015. And it must come up with a plan for certifying operators and handling airspace safety issues, among other rules.”

This is just the first of many new pieces of legislation that will be used to create a safe but open playing field for this emerging industry.

Where do we go from here?

When Abe Karem, the aerospace engineer known as the father of the Predator created his first drone in 1973, he had no clue what he was about to unleash.

In much the way we deal with controlled substances, drones will be considered a “controlled technology.”

New systems will emerge for licensing and registering drones. Similar to the recent flurry of gun control legislation, every “major drone incident” will spawn new forms of drone-control regulations.

Privacy issues will be an ongoing concern. With technology for seeing through buildings and improved clarity at a distance, the drone industry will be constantly pushing the envelope of what’s acceptable. This has been kind of a legal gray area until now, with the F.A.A. warning, but not fining, individuals.

Avalanche early warning system 

Final thoughts

Sometime over the coming months you can expect to see a version of the following help wanted ad:

“Help Wanted: Full-time aerial drone drivers needed to help manage our growing fleet of surveillance, delivery, and communication drones. We are also looking for drone repair techs, drone dispatchers, and drone salesmen.”

The drone industry in the U.S. currently stands at roughly $5.9 billion, but will grow significantly over the coming years.

We are still in the very early stages of this technology. The emerging do-it-yourself droners are still driving much of this industry.

At the same time, conditions are ripe for a major player to enter the fray. As an example, if Apple, Samsung, or Google were to start offering flying drones, under $1,000, controllable with apps through their smartphones, the industry has the potential of mushrooming into tens of millions of units in a matter of months.

So what percentage of people will own a personal flying drone 10 years from now? I predict it will be upwards of 90%. What do you think?

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything


10 Responses to “We have Officially Entered the Drone Era”

Comments List

  1. Steve Elliott

    Hi Tom, Good food for thought. If a drone could be linked to a phone, how many parents would want a drone that would seek out the phone to "show me what my kid is doing right now?" I'm thinking 90% would be low. Thanks for making us think on a regular basis! Steve Elliott
    • admin

      Steve, One topic I've mentioned in the past is the idea of a "billion cam network." With Google Glass, we may reach that point sooner than later. But if we could have a silent drone camera hovering above us at all times for safety reasons, what percentage of the population would opt-in for that type of service if it were relatively inexpensive? Tom
  2. <a href='http://www.Market-Engineering.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Gary Lundquist</a>

    Tom, A gun on a drone is a gun. The second amendment says citizense have the right to have guns. Of course we will see drones used for any damned reason people might think up. Give a human a way to kill, and humans will kill. No question at all. We all need to move to bunkers with bomb resistent doors. It will be crowded underground. You as a futurist might work on the ethics of bunker behavior. Gary
    • admin

      Gary, Some great points. The key question I've been wrestling with is - Is it possible to keep our skies safe? I'll have to brush up "the ethics of bunker behavior." :-) Tom
  3. <a href='http://Christianswann.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Christian Swann</a>

    It is what it is. Apple already has a UAV under $300 that is controlled by your phone, with a pretty good camera. Putting weapons on UAV's is based upon the payload. A UAV that is 4.4 lbs, has a camera, cannot carry a gun. But there are lots of other functional weapons that can be used. I just got through writing basically the same article. Everything that we can think of that these UAVs can do to improve our safety, can also cause harm. It's really nothing new. They've been around forever. The technology is rapidly growing, and the cost are coming down. We have them that are silent and look like birds, to fast moving helicopters, higher payloads, Longer airtime, to bigger, longer surveillance, to small used my handheld devise with remount control waypoint system. You tell it where to go, it goes. We can track IPs, lock ins, we have a beacon system that is patented and can be dropped by the UAV, will work 50ft below dirt or water. But there are so many issues that the FAA will have to figure out. But I have faith, they will. I can tell you for a fact, being a operator, consultant and sales, it's like anything else, in the wrong hands can be horrible. Most of the departments I've talked to, want one thing, surveillance. Weather legal or not, they will find a way. UAV's are like a mad love affair. You love to love them and you love to hate them. They are innovated, brilliant, sneaky evil bastards..
  4. <a href='http://Christianswann.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Christian Swann</a>

    Also, the quote, "give a human a way to kill, he will." I think is the fathered from the truth. Humans do not want to kill. Proven fact over decades. Will they, when in danger we can only hope. But even then, the majority will not. Even trained LE and military have a hard time pulling the trigger. They are and have come along way with realistic developed training. Still today, in 2013, the number one tool in the world used for killing, is not a gun or high tech weapon. It's a screwdriver. Next to the hands. That doesn't mean if you don't have a hard time with it, something's wrong with you. (Unless you are not fighting for your life or under orders. Some of us, are born Sheepdogs, to protect. Some Wolves, to hunt, kill, harm, no remorse for innocent life's. but most are sleep. Denial, want happen to you, don't want to think about it, and that's ok to. It's what makes society. But, if you really want to work on something innovated. Figure out a better way of Cyber patterning the wolves and terrorist.
  5. anon0012

    I don't understand the panic over drones, the technology itself is neither new or scary. All of the potential bad uses of drones you mentioned are already easily achievable with more conventional methods. Sure, drones will pose unique challenges, but most of those will be around the availability of airspace and keeping aircraft safe. The other potential negative issues you mentioned are not really exclusive to or exacerbated by drones.
    • admin

      To anon0012, Here are a few recent videos of drones that are putting people on edge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ol8c9bdp7YI http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yjMoEJHDcXI http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&NR=1&v=1tetyswGyGA Do you find any of this potentially intrusive? Tom
  6. Mantical

    For the "bad drones" especially the ones for surveilance - groups could invest in low-budget Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) Technology to knock them out of the air and render that technology basically useless. There are already youtube videos of people doing experiments with home made and low budget versions of that technology. The question is "how do you accurately tell the difference between a good vs. bad drone way ahead of time?"
  7. Mantical

    I left out - who's going the set themselves up as the "authority" that decides what a "good drone" vs a "bad drone" is. And who is openly or covertly funding them and what are those 3rd parties' vested interests?

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