Drones…reality or not?


Amazon gained a lot of publicity in 2013 through the announcement of Prime Air, a supposed drone delivery system that aims to bring customers packages within 30 minutes or less. There’s been a lot of commentators calling Prime Air “vapourware” and a “publicity stunt” with no chance of happening anytime soon.

So, what is a drone exactly? Another word for a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (or UAV). It is best described as an aircraft that has no human pilot on board. Its flight patterns are controlled either via computers in a vehicle or via remote control from a pilot on the ground. The name “drone” may come from the other name for male honey bees whose only job is to go out and look for honey and then bring it back to the hive. Their instructions come from the queen bee so they have no control over what their job is. The same as is the case for drones.

There are many types of drones that have been created. Some are in the form of very small airplanes; others are like helicopters with multiple rotating blades. One example would be an octocopter, a drone that is an 8-rotor helicopter. Types of drones can also be distinguished from each other based on what heights they can reach, their endurance and also their speed.

In the beginning drones were exclusively used in combat such as the UAVs utilised in World War I and those that were employed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The motivation behind the use of drones in wars is that armies were concerned about losing men in flight so sending out an unmanned vehicle of some sort was a better option. Drones were also often used in espionage.

Nowadays there are many categories that a drone can fall into such as target and decoy, research and development, logistics and reconnaisance (basically exploration of a dangerous area). However, drones are increasingly becoming something that any person can buy and employ in their everyday lives. Some people are simply buying drones to capture great aerial photography shots by attaching cameras like GoPros (cameras designed specifically for outdoor activities) to the drone and then sending it out. A Discovery channel reality show called “Gold Rush” recently used this method to great effect in order to capture dangerous or unique shots.

Drones have begun to seep into our everyday lives with sneaky ease. Conservationists are using them to trap illegal fox hunters (even though they have been accused of invading the privacy of said hunters), archaelogists are using drones to create three-dimensional maps of hard-to-reach areas (something that used to take months or years, but now take mere days or weeks) and they are also being used in the early detection of forest fires.

Amazon’s supposed future use of drone delivery came with a lot of questions. Will something like this not invade people’s privacy? What if someone decides to shoot down the drone and steal the package? How safe are the public when drones are around? How will operators be trained or certified to handle the drones? All of these questions and others are very valid since the use of drones to deliver packages is a very new concept. The good news for sceptics are that drones are still something that is firmly set in the future (even though a company in Germany already deploys drones for package delivery), something like 4 to 5 years minimum but more than likely a decade.

The reason for this long wait for drones to become an everyday sighthing is legality and regulations. Because drones are such a new thing, governments are not quite sure how to approach them. What goes for any other flying vehicle will not go for drones, simply because they are unmanned. Will the person remotely flying the drone be responsible for any wrongdoing or mishaps the drone gets into? What happens if the drone breaks a law – do the laws of other aircraft apply to them (such as flying over restricted air spaces)?

If you look beyond the potential privacy invasions and possible drone warfare carried out in your backyard, you will see the amazing ways drones are currently being used. People photograph the large outdoor Burning Man festival (a great arena for drones with its wide-open spaces) and harmlessly scare geese that are being a nuisance on public beaches. Drones can monitor the activity of marine animals like whales that are far out in the ocean or the secret habits of orangutans in Sumatra. Commercials are even being shot via drones, getting those hard-to-reach shots, and they are keeping our streets safe through thermal imaging use in hostage situations and rescue operations.

Some people may be excited about the prospect of your package appearing on your doorsteps within mere minutes of ordering it but there are many other advantages to using drones. They can potentially save the planet’s animals, keep criminals from getting away with their activities, deliver medicine to people who desparately need it and spray our crops. In the meantime we wait for the FAA (the Federal Aviation Administration, a part of the US government) to decide on the laws regarding drones and the rest of the world should soon follow suit. Is the stricter regualation of drones for those already using it a good or bad thing? Time will tell.