The Drone Era

By: Shaan Fye, Editor-in-chief

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), colloquially known as drones, are figuratively (and literally) taking off. As more and more startups and small companies such as DJI and Parrot EPA begin to target commercial applications of drones, more people are beginning to see the huge potential for them. Until now, UAVs have been restricted to military and occasional police use, arising from the costs of such drones manufactured by Boeing, General Atomics, and Lockheed Martin. These prices often rise to as much a 100 million dollars, reducing the market to almost exclusive government usage.  The proliferation of these drones into the marketplace will spark a revolution, but what will be the effects of such a shift?

Agricultural usage has already begun to explode. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts that 80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be for agricultural uses. AUVSI also finds that in 2015 alone, the total economic impact of agriculture spending on unmanned aircraft in Kansas is estimated to reach more than $75 million, with 772 new jobs created. The benefits are numerous; according to Precision Drones, a UAV company focused on the agriculture sector, drones increase crop yields, save time, lower costs, and are better at managing the health of the plants.  So what will this do to the agriculture business? UAVs will transform the agricultural paradigm by identifying insect problems, watering issues, assessing crop yields or finding missing livestock. Farmers will now be able to target specific areas of land for specific pesticides, saving time and money by precisely identifying problems with their crops.  This, in turn, will lead to increased productivity, giving farmers an edge in a world trying to avoid a Malthusian food shortage.

Soon, in addition to being able to check your crops from your computer, you will be able to use a drone to quickly receive packages. Look at Amazon’s Prime Air as an example.  Amazon is developing a system in which an automated system will load packages filled with ordered goods onto a UAV that will then deliver the package to the address of the customer.  This is a microcosm of what is to come. The economic impact will be huge; companies such as UPS and Fedex may soon find themselves irrelevant for small-scale short-distance deliveries as more and more businesses rely upon in-house delivery methods. Shipping companies may eventually own the drones and contract them out for small business usage.  Additionally, the time spent waiting for a package will be reduced to the extent that food deliveries for lunch and dinner will be realistic. From a business perspective, there won’t be a reason to pay for an employee, a car, and gas simply to deliver food. Soon enough, your Chinese food may arrive via drone.

Deliveries and agriculture are two of many fields that stand to be enhanced by the drone revolution. At the same time, many ethical and safety concerns will begin to arise as a result of increased drone usage. There is nothing in place to stop stalkers from utilizing drones on oblivious prey, for example.  Additionally,  if companies have the resources to use drones to keep track of employees’ whereabouts, what is going to stop them from doing so? Will drones give hunters an unfair advantage over the animals? Would customers trust expensive goods to be delivered by drone? These questions are a selection of surely many potential problems of drones.  Like any new technology, risk comes along with it. Planes and cars have revolutionized travel, but accidents still happen every day. Cell phones have connected society even further, but distracted driving kills many every year. Even though risk exists, it doesn’t lead to the disuse of such technologies. Commercial use of drones will revolutionize many areas of the economy, but new risks and downsides will arise from usage. The FAA has a huge responsibility in regulating drone usage.  We, as a society, can only hope that the advent of drones will be accompanied by regulations that maximize the good while minimizing the bad.