Attack of the Drones

In just over a decade, drones have flown into our lives in ways we once could have only imagined. In February 2002, the CIA deployed the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for a targeted killing in Afghanistan. Today, in addition to military use, drones are flying above crops to snap photos for farmers, insurance companies are eyeing them for claims processing, and Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos hopes to have a drone fleet in operation to deliver packages in the not too distant future.

Heck, my neighbor has a toy quadcopter he plays with from time to time.

It’s safe to say that aerial drones are here to stay. Right now, the only thing holding back swarms of these machines is government approval. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is fashioning rules and restrictions, and companies looking to use the machines must obtain exemptions. Some say that the agency is moving too slowly but, based on the risks, it’s probably a good idea to build a framework for use upfront. Especially when we consider sharing airspace that already has commercial airliners flying through it.

There have already been close calls with commercial aircraft and a variety of other issues, concerns and problems. And then there’s the fear that they will fall from the sky and hurt people and objects.

Nevertheless, the UAV transformation is well underway, and it promises to ripple through just about every industry sector. When Amazon begins using drones for package deliveries, others will be forced to follow. When engineers and insurance companies begin to use drones to inspect damaged high-rise buildings, dams and disaster areas, others will be forced to follow.

You get the idea. Within a decade, hundreds of thousands of these devices will likely fill the skies. While researchers explore how to make drones–particularly the autonomous vehicles required for package delivery–fly better and safer, and government officials and regulators study how to manage them, business leaders must ponder how they might change their industry, directly and indirectly. It’s also important to consider security and privacy issues and the risks and dangers associated with them.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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