A few years ago, a woman on the 26th floor of a high-rise was relaxing in her living room when she noticed a strange object hovering outside the window. She went over to get a better view and was shocked by what she saw: a drone was staring directly at her.
This incident received a lot of publicity because it was so outrageous, and it also generated a great deal of attention to encroachment on our privacy. Despite this, drones are not only here to stay, but going forward will play an increasingly important role in our lives
Drones are small, unmanned aircraft. Introduced by the military back in 1911, they were a disaster at first, and for decades the Air Force kept them on the back burner. However, the technology incorporated in them was gradually perfected, and by 2012 it was estimated that one of every three craft used by the Air Force was a drone. Today, at least 50 countries use them, and within 10 years every country will.
According to the market analysis firm Skylogic Research, some 2.3 million drones will be sold this year in America. A significant percentage of those will be used for entertainment, as costs of entry-level models have dropped below $100. But many others will be used in a wide variety of applications including agriculture, law enforcement, and emergency situations.
Despite the concern about privacy, a huge majority of people agree that drones are a necessity. A poll taken for Homeland Security found that 67 percent of Americans support using them for security missions, and nearly as many – 63 percent – believe they should also be used in fighting crime. Experts predict that by 2020, the number of drones flying over America will grow dramatically.
Like them or not, people are going to have to adjust to drones
because drones won’t adjust to the concerns of people
“This is one of the few technologies that could revolutionize the way the world appears,” said Mark Blanks, who supervises a test site at Virginia Tech where the effects of drones on air traffic are analyzed.
A New Game
In an interview with the news show 60 Minutes in 2016, Jeff Bezos said that 86 percent of Amazon’s orders are for merchandise that weighs less than five pounds – light enough for a drone to deliver. And that would offer important benefits such as much faster service, lower costs, fewer trucks polluting the air, and less gridlock on highways.
Amazon has already begun testing drones that could deliver orders within 30 minutes. Domino’s is also testing drones to deliver pizza, and Wal-Mart is using them inside their warehouses; it’s a virtual certainty that they are also studying how they could be used to fill online orders. These new delivery systems could be put into service within three years.
Obviously, the military also has an interest in drones. Dr. Will Roper, head of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, said that large numbers of inexpensive “drone swarms” could be a weapon as effective as expensive aircraft and human pilots. Roper demonstrated some of those drones on 60 Minutes – they were small enough to fit into one hand – and those weren’t even the latest models. In the future, it may be possible to customize drones for particular missions and to move drone-building factories to battle sites.
Meanwhile, drones are already showing up in many other applications, too. Among those:
*Farmers use them to estimate crop yields months before they are harvested. And special software attached to drones is helping farmers find crops suffering from disease, flooding, and other problems early enough to save them.
*Drones are making it possible for an estimated 1.3 billion to 2.1 billion people who live in remote or hard-to-reach places to get urgently needed medical supplies in a matter of minutes.
*First responders to natural disasters, crime scenes, and major accidents get vital information they need to rescue victims and save lives.
*Drones are also being used to forecast hurricanes, help save endangered animals, and to photograph special events and occasions.
According to Investopedia, a recent study estimates that in the 10 years between 2015-2025, drones will account for $82.1 billion in economic growth in the U.S. and will also help create over 100,000 jobs.
Is There A Dark Side?
Despite all of their benefits, there are very real concerns about drones. For example, they could conceivably crash into buildings.
Another problem is that they could interfere with commercial and passenger aircraft. A just-concluded study commissioned by the FAA warned that the millions of small civilian drones that have taken to the skies in recent years potentially can cause significant damage to aircraft in midair collisions. In October, the FAA said that reports about drone-safety incidents rose to 250 in a month, up 50 percent from a year ago.
Also, there is a lot of mistrust about drones. The thought of weird-looking flying objects being able to locate individuals, follow them, collect data, and listen to their conversations is enough to unnerve anybody. Although these capabilities don’t make drones more worrisome than the Internet or than smartphones, many people are uncomfortable with the idea.
Recent headlines provide further support for their apprehension. Some of those were about “‘Crowd Control’ Drones That Can See Inside Buildings,” “Pocket-Sized Surveillance Drone Can Fly Through Window,” and “‘Riot Control’ Drones To Shoot Pepper Spray Bullets At Protesters.” There’s also fear about drones falling into the wrong hands, which could unleash a nightmare scenario.
Like them or not, people are going to have to adjust to drones because drones won’t adjust to the concerns of people. Who was it who said, “I miss the good old days”?
Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org