We have seen what drones have been able to accomplish in both of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in other locales in the Middle East and South Asia. How about drones right here in the good ol’ US of A?!? They’re coming, folks . . . . just wait a couple of years.
Talk about a subject that has something in it for everybody.
The recently passed FAA Reauthorization Act, awaiting Pres. Obama’s expected ‘John Hancock’ on the bottom line, includes something unexpected. By me, anyway. The Federal Aviation Administration is tasked with developing regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drone aircraft by 2015 – September, I believe.
This one set the Online Media tongues a’wagging earlier this week. Civil libertarians are digging in about law enforcement using drones, while many in the commercial sector are salivating over all the possible uses for drones.
I heard an NPR radio piece about it on a long drive the other day, where a couple is out hiking, admiring a beautiful Spring day in Future USA, when they come upon a Hummingbird. Not just any Hummingbird, mind you. A drone Hummingbird, doing a wee bit of surveillance, indistinguishably humming along out there among Mother Nature’s finest creations.
Everybody will find something in commercial drones. Imagine, surveyors and real estate brokers can get aerial views like having a trained, camera-carrying falcon at your disposal. With good quality video cameras now crammed into everything from iPhones to any half-decent digital camera – they’re that tiny now – the technology is completely achievable right now, as you read this.
But, the FAA has a job on their hands to figure out where to fit commercial drones in the already incredibly crowded, Friendly Skies over America. As I mentioned in a previous article here, the FAA slices and dices the sky above us into thousand foot traffic lanes, alternately going in two directions and air traffic controllers monitor thousands of flights daily, which, by some miracle and a heap of stressful, hard work, don’t smack into each other too often. As the old Byrds song goes, “Eight Miles High” is about the top level – that’s 40,000 feet, roughly – room for an incredible amount of flying metal tubes with wings, people inside, and more cargo than you can imagine. And now, drones too.
Commercial shippers should be eager to dispense with the human costs of piloting flights if they can get your FedEx or UPS package there on time, without paying salaries, benefits, retirement and pensions, and without all that hassle of scheduling humans. Drones, after all, are just flying computers, and, as such, they don’t need to limit flying hours, don’t get tired, and never have alcohol on their breath after a wild partying weekend.
Of course, law enforcement already has their birds in the sky – those choppers which circle endlessly over troubled areas, with those annoying spotlights casting about, waking you up late at night, often signaling somebody on the run from the law, leaping backyard fences. Some neighborhoods, like Echo Park, where one of my offspring dwells, already have it as almost a nightly feature, like the streetlamps going on at sunset. But, law enforcement is as strapped as everybody else these days, and they too can save on the human costs of piloting, substituting drones as their eye in the sky.
How about weather helicopters – the flying weatherman, or woman, can sit and sip coffee, warm and dry in the studio, and let the drone go out when it’s not a fit night, or day, for man or beast. Perhaps, fire fighting drones, carrying flame retardents and water, flying even at night, with no human pilots to endanger?
Scientists could mount whole fleets of drones to study this or that phenomenon easily, and to search for archaeological treasures with all kinds of drones loaded with the spectrum of sensing, mapping, and monitoring devices. Oil, gas and water exploration too! Census takers too.
Sure, they’ll cost a fortune at first – like my $1000 CD Player, when they first came out in the early 80’s, the price of being an early adoter – today, you can pick one up at Costco, Best Buy and a zillion more places for, perhaps, a double sawbuck, or less. Drone prices will come way down, and perhaps we can even engineer personal drones, for joy-riding the skies over the Santa Monica Mountains, with the Ravens and Seagulls. Maybe Jetsons’-style drone flying commuter cars, to relieve road traffic congestion, with computer collision-avoidance systems too?
Military folks already have drones in all sizes and in the shapes of all the beasts existing in today’s zoological kingdom. Was that a cow you just passed on your way to Mammoth? Or, was it a walking drone cow, counting cars, with special monitors to sense where you came from, where you are going, and sporting complete connectivity with traffic flow, so that your way there is smoothed without you even suspecting it, and terrorists traveling the same route can be neutralized with the touch of a button.
The possibilities are endless. It’s coming for Fall 2015. Drones for all!