We’ve watched a transfixed Matthew McConaughey follow a surveillance drone in the blockbuster movie Interstellar. This scene was set many years into the future. However, it did pique my interest in drones and the possibilities they could create some years down the line.
From the U.S. coast guards using UAVs to locate vessels suspected of carrying contraband to military personnel deploying these little flying creatures to spy, the word drone brings to the mind’s eye military operations on battle fronts. But this electronic birdie isn’t as evil as it is made to sound: ‘drone’ is just a fancy name given to a UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. And now, after being under research for a long time, UAVs are slowly making their way into the commercial space. Most of these applications are experimental and small scale but the stage is set for drones to make a big, positive impact on efficiency in niche tasks as well as the tasks that we carry out on a daily basis.
Drones came into limelight more than a year ago when Amazon tested a UAV termed as the Octocopter for Amazon Delivery under its Prime Delivery Project. The e-commerce giant claims that the delivery time can be brought down to as little as half an hour using its octocopter. In fact, Amazon owns a patent numbered US8825226 for “Deployment of mobile automated vehicles”.
Flying pizza, internet & much more
Domino’s Pizza has also employed an eight-rotor Domicopter to deliver pizzas in UK. Won’t it be great to receive one’s order in just a few minutes instead of the oft-practiced 29-minute delivery and that too by a sleek, unmanned, flying robot: stuff of yesteryear sci-fi movies, soon to become a day-to-day affair!
There are a wide range of arenas where drones can find applications in the near future. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg fancies using solar powered drones to provide wireless internet in remote areas by employing them as movable wireless access points. Facebook’s acquisition of Titan Aerospace was clearly a step in this direction. MIT’s SENSEable City Lab also developed a UAV system that uses GPS and cameras to help people find their way around the campus. During the Colorado flood relief efforts, Falcon drones, which are small planes fitted with 10x Zoom Sony cameras and other thermal imaging cameras, helped agencies coordinate their actions.
Drones can soon find an active application in journalism as well. Students at University of Missouri are being trained to operate drones to acquire information quickly and more efficiently. Sports photography is another field where drones are offering exciting prospects. Delve into your imagination and picture a ball screeching its way towards you while you enjoy a match on your television. Spider-cam will soon be replaced by a more dynamic camera hooked to a drone.
Drones that go wild
Researchers also propose to use UAVs for wildlife study, particularly when it comes to counting the number of animals in a specific area or monitoring acts of poaching of endangered species. U.S. Geological Survey has been testing a small camera-based drone, Raven A, for this purpose. Drones are already being effectively used for agricultural purposes and for “Hurricane Hunting”.
NASA’s eye in the storm
NASA’s Global Hawk aircraft helps scientists witness lifecycles of hurricanes. Based on these observations, scientists can predict the path of hurricanes with greater accuracy.
It is evident that UAVs are the future, and not a very distant one at that. The application of drones in various facets of life is another step in the direction of increased automation. Drones help us touch dimensions that aren’t otherwise possible. This is why some of the biggest companies are already investing a lot of money to make drones commercially viable and successful. Amazon’s Octocopter probably triggered the advancement. Google’s advanced research division Google X is developing drones to deliver goods.
Disney’s filmy drones
In August last year, Disney filed for three patents related to drones. The inventions disclosed in these patents might be used in Disney Theme parks or in movies for filming certain sequences. These include drones that support puppets (US20140231590) using tether lines. A series of UAVs can be synchronized to fly in accordance to the puppet’s display requirements for the film. Patent number US20140233099 is another interesting technology describing one of the most integral features of Disney’s fairy tales – Flying Castles. Patent US20140236388 describes a similar technology with emphasis on lighting for films.
Are regulations clipping drones’ wings?
At present, there are strict regulations on the usage of drones. In US, FAA doesn’t want to see drones flying around given its security and privacy concerns. However, it seems a matter of time that regulatory authorities come up with rules for safe and secure usage of drones instead of denying their flight altogether.
The investment in UAVs is rising exponentially. Business Insider expects that “12% of an estimated $98 billion in cumulative spending on aerial drones over the next decade will be for commercial purposes”. People are warming up to the idea of seeing drones deliver goods at their doorstep and I personally feel it would be awesome to open the door and find a miniature flying vehicle putting down my pizza order.
(Featured image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/samchurchill/14586999783)