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Technology Trends: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Remote-controlled aerial craft (commonly called drones) have been around for decades, but only recently has the technology become affordable enough that just about anyone can own a craft of some sort, and no longer must one find a reliable mail-order source or a specialty store. For less than fifty dollars and a trip to the neighborhood electronics shop or drugstore, pocket-sized, camera-equipped, four-propeller aircraft can be zipping over your street under your control. YouTube hosts thousands of videos by regular enthusiasts with completely new looks at familiar things: sky views of soccer games, incredible up-close shots of surfers on enormous waves, zippy tours of college campuses, and previously-inaccessible glimpses of forests, rivers, mountains, and even lava flows where it’s impractical to bring gear.

As the cellphone camera once changed the look and feel of journalism, aerial drone cameras are changing the way events are photographed, data is collected, and marketers display their product. But as with any technology that explodes in popularity, emergent issues and governments’ responses to them can be hurried, resulting in overzealous regulation at best, and unconstitutional restrictions on liberty at worst. Meanwhile, as is always the case, users think of creative (and sometimes malicious) mischief more quickly than bureaucracies can ban it.

Drones have come alarmingly close to private residences, public gatherings, and government buildings—including the White House—and the tension between allowing people their fun while also protecting people’s rights to privacy and safety has been tested all over. It is already policy not to allow drones over National Park lands all across the United States, but how close to the crowds can a quadcopter get in the air above a public event before it lessens the experience for participants or becomes a threat to their well-being?

Here is where local governments are testing the limits of the constitution as they try to keep up with drones’ growing popularity. Websites monitoring local legislation and media coverage of the hobby have sprung up everywhere, each paying close attention to public sentiment as it wavers between fascination and trepidation. In response, local hobbyists do their best to maintain healthy relationships with their communities, reminding enthusiasts of their rights and responsibilities while putting their best faces forward before the rogue miscreants are established as the perceived norm.

Big business is also aboard the drone bandwagon, with pizzerias and online retailers already experimenting with aerial delivery, opening up yet a different can of regulatory worms. But where the hobbyist photographer might be seen by the general public as a harmless curiosity, once consumers get a taste of the convenience of drone-delivered merchandise, sentiment could tip momentum in favor of the new technology and its users, with pizzas and novels just scratching the surface of what can make its way to their doors. How long before prescription medication, hot lattes, and 3D-printed thingamajigs created on demand to bail someone out of any assortment of emergencies are available with a few swipes on a smartphone screen?

Today, unmanned aerial vehicles are mostly still toys—faddish distractions for kids and expensive obsessions for geeks. As technology gets better and less expensive, there’s no telling what creative solution for which practical need the expanded consumer base will employ these devices for, perhaps turning this year’s toy into next week’s lifesaving essential.

 

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