Amazon may have startled people when it first announced that it was developing its own drone program to deliver packages even faster (at least in certain parts of the country), but this year there were so many drone startups at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that an entire section of the convention was devoted to them.
“People have been saying the drones are coming. But I think the fact that we have an unmanned systems area dedicated to them now means they’re not coming. They’re here,” says Dronelife editor-in-chief Andrew Amato, reports Haven Daley for the AP.
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Americans still uncomfortable with commercial drones
There are a couple of obvious applications for commercial drones: delivering packages like Amazon wants to do (or like one Mumbai pizza restaurant has already done), getting a bird’s-eye-view to compliment GoPro’s first person footage (AirDog is starting its pilot program shortly after CES), or just a more efficient way to survey undeveloped land. Like most new technologies, we won’t know everything that drones can be used for until companies really start competing with each other and innovating. But not everyone is eager to reach that point.
Nearly half of Americans are opposed to commercial drone use, and another third haven’t made up their minds one way or the other. Even if familiarity softens those numbers a bit, it’s unlikely that a majority of the country will support commercial drones in the next few years. The US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has similar concerns, saying that there have already been multiple close calls where private drones nearly hit commercial aircraft. You could argue that private planes have always posed similar problems, but drones promise to be far cheaper and more accessible than private planes ever could be. Drone startups are pushing ahead, but they’re going to face a lot of regulatory uncertainty and pushback in the near term.
3D printable drone on display at CES
Most of the personal drones were, like AirDog, basically flying video cameras, though there were some interesting standouts like Nixie, a wearable drone that flies a short distance to snap a few pictures and come back. Yash Mulgaonkar probably came up with the FAA’s least favorite offering, the schematics for a drone that anyone can create using a 3D printer and control with their smartphone.