Starting with the New Year, the US government will begin its examination of how aerial drones can be used in America. Hmmm… It’s a bit late. Consumer drones have been sold on the Internet, and presumably used, for years. Technically, it is not legal to use a flying drone, both because it uses radio frequencies to direct it (which should require a license), and because it flies through the air which requires other licensing (interference with air traffic, no-fly zones over cities, etc.). While they are technically illegal, it’s not really clear which federal, state or city agency should monitor these tiny perpetrators, or what exactly are the penalties for flying a drone.
Decades ago, when radio controlled planes (the direct ancestors of drones) were a big thing, but relatively rare, using the controller (or a walkie-talkie, which required similar licensing) could interfere with private radios used by taxis, long haul trucking, the police, etc. Even broadcast TV and commercial radio could be interrupted. Today, however, these broadcasts are digital, making most accidental radio interference irrelevant.
As a result, drones have proliferated without the relevant authorities noticing. If the government chooses to restrict drones by enforcing the requirement for radio licensing, it’s far, far too late. The latest drones don’t use RC controllers. Instead, they have migrated to apps on smart phones.
Running off a smart phone provides three advantages over a radio controller. First, an inexpensive RC controller might have a range of only a hundred feet or so. Even a more powerful controller might only have a range of a thousand feet, or slightly more. Even if you did have an exceptionally power controller with greater range, it would be difficult to see and direct a tiny drone at that range. When the drone is controlled by a smart phone it has an unlimited range, it will work wherever a smart phone works. It’s range is only limited by how long the battery lasts.
Next, if the drone has a video camera (and they all do these days), the drone can send these images to your phone, allowing you to guide the drone as if you were in a “pilots seat” inside of the drone. And lastly, the drone can use the CPU of your smart phone to augment its capabilities. That means that instead of using a drone like an old RC plane, remotely guiding the drone to its destination, you could use a map and tell it where to go, and the phone would use GPS to guide it to the location… without any intervention by a human “pilot.”
All of these capabilities not only mean that one human can control a whole fleet of drones, it means that air drones can work under conditions that RC planes never could. A big computer brain can adjust to wind and weather conditions, learn where there is turbulence (such as the winds around tall buildings) or electrical interference or any other danger and automatically avoid it.
Technological progress is turning the once dumb remote-controlled toy planes into smart drones. Soon we will be flooded by cheap, but very capable drones that will fill our skies and will eventually perform practical services. So, before anyone else does it, I hereby declare the creation of a new word for the English language… Dronation!
OK, if you happen to follow the band… Dronation… I’m not stealing their title. And I know that a few clever writers have been talking about our turning into a nation with drones (“Drone-Nation”, dronation). No… I’ve got something new here. I’m talking about a verb, that means the conversion or augmentation of work processes so that they can be performed by drones. Just as you can automate, you can dronate. Therefore, I predict that we will soon see a massive wave of DRONATION. I don’t say that because I just created this uber-cool new word (and I did, because I created it, and it’s mine!). No, I say this because we are going to see drones take over in the next few years. When you see it happening, now you will know what to call it!
There are already thousands, if not tens of thousands of drones in the sky today. Personal drones moved from being toys to being something more in the past few years, with amateur photographers buying and flying the best of these drones. For just a few hundred dollars, you can buy a very capable drone. However, drones are rapidly moving beyond being recreational devices, and are about to become a common sight in commerce. These devices, when coupled with an HD camera, can patrol your property, or help farmers detect diseased crops or even apply micro-doses of pesticides (rather than dousing an entire field when pests are detected). Throw in a little more lift power, and you have a prototype delivery drone. So, there’s still time to beat Amazon to market with your own personal delivery service!