Creativity has rebooted business. Discover how through this ongoing series featuring unique products, services and technologies, as well as the personalities who have turned their dreams into our realities.
These days, if you’re looking for drones, you don’t have to look far. Also called unmanned aerial vehicles, these devices are being adapted from government to private use as tour guides and high-tech couriers. They're even finding their way onto film sets and archaeological digs. If Amazon has anything to do with it, we'll soon see them on our doorsteps.
It’s a growing industry that experts expect to explode. In a report released this summer, the Teal Group Corporation, a research group specializing in aerospace and defense, predicted that more than $89 billion will be spent on UAVs in the next decade. While only around 10 percent of that figure will go toward commercial and civilian use, Teal Group’s Phil Finnegan, a director of corporate analysis says there will still be "growing interest" in that emerging market.
Says Finnegan, "The value of the commercial market will not be anywhere near the size of the military market because of the sophistication and cost of these systems.” However, he adds that civil applications will be small and inexpensive, traits that can fuel their growth.
This growth is fueled by low barriers to entry. Christopher Green, an MIT research fellow who works with the university’s Senseable City Lab, an initiative that studies the impact of technology on our urban spaces, says that advances in open source drone software and hardware has made technology relatively inexpensive and opened the field to hobbyist enthusiasts and researchers developing components and applications for small-scale UAVs. He points out that a quadcopter, like the one used in Senseable Lab’s SkyCall project, can be built for several hundred dollars.
Still, Green notes that while media and agriculture are “embracing drone technology,” the commercial industry as a whole is still finding itself. He says there is a “lack of definition of what it is” with everything from micro-vehicles, hobbyist quadcopters, and military predator drones being categorized as 'UAVs.'
The industry’s biggest hurdle, however, might be governments scrambling to keep up with the technology’s latest applications, both big and small. In January, the Federal Aviation Administration even shut down a brewery delivering 12-packs to ice fisherman in Minnesota. And while the agency released a five-year plan to allow drones to share commercial airspace, it postponed its own 2015 integration deadline – and hasn’t set a new benchmark.
With that in mind, Finnegan says full integration could take a decade, with commercial UAV systems starting small and the market growing slowly due to regulation of airspace by domestic and international aviation agencies.
But in the meantime, the industry is moving forward. Drone prototypes continue to be developed and tested by companies in our own backyard and all over the world, from Australia to Switzerland. Take a look at what’s in development for a peek at how drones will shape our lives in years to come.