Aerial drones have been in the news because of their use in war fighting for the past decade. However since military technology always seems to find civilian applications eventually, questions arise about privately owned drones and how they will change our everyday lives.
Recently Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos announced that his company is planning a service that will deliver certain items to the customer’s door step via drone if they live within ten miles of an Amazon distribution center and the item weighs five pounds or less. There are certain legal complications that have to be resolved, since the United States Federal Aviation Administration is still working out what the regulations will be concerning civilian drones. Because of the size and weight limitations, one will not be able to – say – whistle up a big screen TV at will. But it would seem that the drone delivery service will be just the thing for that last minute gift because of the immediacy.
Along those lines, Ahmed Haider, an entrepreneur residing in Australia and owner of a company called Zookal, a textbook rental company, has started his own drone delivery service, Flirtey. The major difference between Flirtey and the Amazon scheme is that Flirtey’s drones will hover and lower the ordered textbook by a cord before flying on instead of landing.
Haider believes that using drones to deliver textbooks rather than shipping them by truck or some other conventional way will shave his shipping costs by 90 percent. That being the case, the world may be about to enter a new age in which packages, at least of a certain size and weight, drop in from the sky instead of being plopped on one’s doorstep by the friendly delivery person.
Fox News recently reported that civilian drones will have a great many applications for agriculture. Instead of relying on satellite imagery, farmers will be able to use drones to keep tabs on their crops and livestock, checking for disease and pests. Drones can also deliver targeted amounts of pesticides and even frighten away birds feeding on crops.
Drones can also be used for everything from flying critical transplant organs directly to a hospital to delivering medical supplies to disaster zones to patrolling oil and gas pipelines.
All of this potential has both academia and governments scrambling to take advantage. The University of North Dakota now has an undergraduate major in unmanned aircraft operations. Thus far most graduates will go into the military, but in the fullness of time more students will find themselves working in the private sector.
The FAA, as part of its effort to develop a series of regulations governor the civilian use of drones, has set up testing facilities in six states with diverse climates, geography, and air traffic environments. These states are Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. The testing will determine whether fleets of drones will be able to navigate safely, which is to say not run into one another or other aircraft.
It is estimated that the civilian drone industry will eventually create more than 70,000 jobs within three years after restrictions on the use of drones is lifted. Civilian drone pilots can expect to earn between $85,000 and $115,000 a year.