The drone revolution is just beginning


An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft system without an on-board human pilot. These are remotely or autonomously operated transportation platforms.

Combined with a ground station or integrated with other elements, a UAV becomes an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) which can be advanced enough to take off, fly, and land by itself. UAVs can provide many services and there is a growing interest in using them for commercial applications.

UAVs or drones were historically military in nature. The idea is to separate the loss of an aircraft from the loss of human life. Modern aircraft performance can also be limited by the physical boundaries of human beings, so remotely piloting them can increase air dominance.

Drones can be fitted with equipment to fill multiple purposes, including reconnaissance and surveillance. Armed versions of drones can also provide offensive capabilities, allowing it to destroy an enemy target once identified.

Currently, there is a growing movement for using drones for non-combat purposes. Startup companies such as Matternet aim to use UAVs to connect people living in remote areas without access to reliable roads. Recharging at a network of ground stations, Matternet UAVs will carry critical payloads such as medicine and supplies to rural locations.

Schools and organizations are now sponsoring drone development competitions to spur technological advancement, and communities such as DIYdrones help individuals make UAVs for personal functions such as aerial photography and mapping.

In the future, drones could integrate with other services to enhance our everyday life. Perhaps when you enter a hotel, a UAV can assist guests as a concierge. Maybe instead of drive-thru windows, a pharmacy can provide a landing pad for individuals to pick up medication using personal drones. Also consider personal companion drones that are an extension of your mobile devices. The possibilities seem endless at this point.

Several hurdles prevent this dream from reality, including regulation, air traffic, and information security. Drones also carry a negative public perception and are still relatively costly for mass consumption.

Despite these roadblocks, the Federal Aviation Administration is developing guidelines for civil operation of small UAVs with a target submission date of 2015. Once enabled, we believe this will be the birth of brand new markets with new investment opportunities, and it would benefit investors to watch trends in this sector very closely.

Photo Credit: steve_lodefink

  • Maynard Runkle

    Wee makes the $63 billion appropriation for domestic drones a wee bit clearer. They are needed for delivery of medicine where there are no roads (or helicopters), or just to pick up a prescription at your local pharmacy, for concierge duty at hotels and as companions to those whose personal devices apparently still leave them a little lonely. He forgot such useful qualities as giving one the potential for ending those nasty alimony and custody issues or bad business partnerships.
    And I had foolishly thought that their main rationale was the government’s “need” for surveillance, for offing pesky potential terrorists, crowd control and “border patrol.”

    • paulow

      I think that those are civilian uses for drones that add up to military applications. Another example that comes to my mind is aerospace industry with its ceramics that are nowadays used by dentists. I also heard of a sushi restaurant that uses drone to deliver the orders at the customers table. Crazy new world.

  • Ken

    lets just hope this technology is not mis-used. Which it probably will be.

  • Dug Bledsoe

    They, the government, will be in our backyards, forever.

  • williweb

    The possibility of having a personal telepresence anywhere at any time expands human capabilities only limited by our imagination and the definition of a person. Our sense of touch, smell, sight, hearing will no longer be limited by physics. Big brother is watching has become obsolete.

  • YourNiteAngel

    this looks excitly like something one can get in the hobby shop

  • Edward Grable

    First make it legal to shoot them down if they are on your property then a lot of laws involving privacy will be unnessary

    • chinaman03

      then what will stop anyone from shooting down news/police helicopters if they are on your property, genius? “Your Honour, they look the same from where i stand”

  • David Eisenberg

    That’s too true. It might not have sounded like it from my short comment, but I’m with you. My point was really that what we thought of the privacy of our homes – that the gov’t must stay outside of the curtilage of your home – is already gone as it doesn’t matter that planes cannot fly over our backyards without probably cause. They and we can all see what is going on there. What we think of as relative privacy in our cars is gone too with the oncoming ubiquity of roadside cameras. And so on. Whatever they can do, they will do.

  • Imperialist Devel

    Soon the drones will be so small they can creep into your house through a tiny crack and spy on you.

  • Imperialist Devel

    Then they will find a way to put toxins into said tiny drones and assasinate people with what might appear to be an insect.

  • Imperialist Devel

    Just saying the future is a scary place.

  • Eric Dillinger

    In Colorado, an initiative put forth the proposition that citizens should be allowed to shoot drones out of the sky if they passed overhead. I would like to shake the hand of the person who put forth this radical measure. The Govt. should be wary of pushing the civil rights of our country to far. There is always a breaking point, and if the creepy intrusions on our lives become to much, it will backfire.