US commercial drones roll out : what else from the future?

The word drone automatically conjures images of war, and the issue around their use has rapidly become one of great controversy in the past few years. However, there is an emerging use of drones – in a commercial capacity – that could offer numerous industries huge benefits. Moreover, the range of uses for these drones is expected to create a vast number of jobs as various companies look to maximize the business opportunities that the technology presents.

A game changing new rule

A recent ruling by the Federal Aviation Administration has altered the requirements for becoming a drone pilot, and in doing so has opened up the potential for vast growth within the industry. Up until recently, the FAA required any drone pilot to possess a regular pilot’s license which dramatically limited the number of people who could work in the field. However, in August of this year, the FAA ruled that anyone over the age of 16 could register to complete a training program, for operating commercial drones, that if passed gives them a certificate to fly the unmanned craft. FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta, said that there are currently 20,000 commercial drones registered for use, but that this figure will soar due to the new ruling. Huerta said, “The FAA forecasts there could be as many as 600,000 unmanned aircraft used commercially during the first year after this rule is in place…Drones are helping to create a whole new means of realizing the American dream.”

Within the first day of the new ruling, 3000 applicants had registered to become commercial drone pilots, and the drone association has predicted that within the first ten years around 100,000 new jobs will be created. In addition, the industry should generate $82 billion for the US economy.

A range of uses

Current drone usage has been in a fairly small, yet diverse, group of industries, with aerial photography, filmmaking, agriculture and firefighting among the areas that have used the technology. However, this is already changing to incorporate direct to customer services. Traveler’s Insurance groups have used drones to photograph damage to homes from Hurricane Matthew, and retail looks set to utilize drones in a major way too. The Japanese government has tested delivery drones in the city of Chiba, which take products such as milk and wine to businesses around the city.

The online retail giant Amazon made headlines with its announcement to begin using drones to deliver small purchases, and as the body of qualified drone operators rapidly increases, so does the number of companies who will incorporate the technology. One company which is eager to lead the drive into drone delivery services is Starship Technologies.

The Estonian startup will operate its first major U.S. run in drone deliveries within Washington, D.C. as it uses rolling drones to deliver groceries to houses within the city. Starship Technologies has already conducted tests across Europe, and the company, which was established by the duo behind Skype, will use its wheeled drones to carry up to 40lbs of goods to homes around the U.S. capital.

While wheeled drones that drive along the sidewalk are not what springs to most people’s minds when they hear the term “drone”, the technology is the same, and the delivery route is one that is far more conventional than having purchases brought in from the air above.

A Humanitarian Potential

One area that has been discussed very little is the possibility for using drones to save lives. The antithesis to the war based use that most people associate with drones, there is potential to airdrop medical aid into dangerous regions and perhaps even more. Lockheed Martin has developed the K-Max, which is a full sized helicopter capable of being remotely controlled. The company recently experimented with the helicopter dropping off an unmanned land drone capable of carrying a person. Lockheed’s Development Manager, Andy Horler, spoke about how such collaborative drone technology could save lives, saying “This sort of collaboration could have been used during the recent Ebola crisis to reduce the risk of the disease spreading by safely stretchering patients out of the contamination zone.” The possibilities for drones are evidently huge, and over the next few years the public may well come to accept drones as another staple of modern life, and perhaps one that changes our entire perception of the technology.

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