The Drone Revolution Is Coming

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The Drone Revolution Is Coming

Drones are about to revolutionize our lives.

Among the twelve breakthrough technologies of the Fifth Techno-Economic Revolution, drones (like self-driving automobiles) fall into the category we call “service robots.” And they are likely to be among the first types of service robots to go mainstream.

The explosive evolution of drones during the current decade is reminiscent of nature’s Cambrian Explosion. They are simultaneously getting both bigger and smaller. At the same time, they are becoming more reliable and more capable; faster and more powerful; smarter and safer; cheaper and more practical.

Today’s drones are the result of the interaction of multiple sets of development cultures and industrial processes. The first industry created unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) targeted mostly at military applications; they required big budgets, cutting-edge specs, and small unit volumes. The second industry makes remote-controlled toys targeting children and hobbyists; this industry must cope with low budgets, but enjoys the advantages of flexible specs and huge volumes.

These dynamic industries both piggy-backed on rapid advances in computing, sensors, smartphones, GPS, electric motors, networking, and batteries that were developed for other applications. Through this cross-disciplinary fertilization process, drones have acquired the features and capabilities that suddenly make them “good enough” for many new applications.

This is the very definition of a disruptive technology—and these drones have the potential to create whole new industries, as well as disrupting existing ones.

Currently, there are about 181,000 drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.1 Federal rules around unmanned aerial vehicles were loosened in 2014, enabling the granting of special permits. However, experts say the biggest hurdle is still regulation—the FAA, which oversees American airspace, has been slow to establish clear-cut rules regarding commercial drone use and delivery.

That’s why, as recently as the beginning of 2015, only a dozen companies were approved to operate drones commercially in the U.S. Since then, the unmanned aircraft systems industry and the FAA have worked to streamline the approval process. The agency has also loosened certain aspects of its commercial drone regulations to give approved companies greater flexibility in how they use commercial drones...

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