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Drones: Coming Soon To The Skies Near You

I know there are all sorts of noteworthy IPOs making the news this week, but the OTHER news item that’s filling the papers, and the one I felt like blogging about here, is the news about DRONES.

Drones are everywhere suddenly: first, one drops out of the sky in Iran, then one does the same in the Seychelles, then Google Maps reveals images of a secret drone base in Nevada.

That sure seems like a lot of drones in our lives in one week.

But it’s nothing like what the future may hold. Why? Because drones are poised to displace helicopters and airplanes as the way police agencies and even corporations do their business in the skies.

This LA Times article about drones caught my attention a few weeks ago when it said that helicopters cost the LA police $1.7 million each, whereas the new five-pound police drone would cost just $40,000.

In other words you could buy 40 5-lb drones for the cost of one helicopter. That’s some serious disruptive potential if ever I’ve seen it.

(Here’s a question: if the police can suddenly buy drones for 1/40 the cost of a helicopter, do they pocket the extra money, or do they just buy 40x the number of aircraft they had previously, and use them all?)

Police aren’t the only ones who want in, of course – FedEx is interested too, among others. They envision “using a fleet of package-laden drones led by a traditionally piloted plane that could keep an eye on the robotic aircraft.”

And what about TV news stations and local delivery services? At $40k, they’d want drones too of course. Along with just about any other service that could take advantage of a small, pilotless, aircraft. Farmers in Japan are already using them to dust crops.

Hell, I might even want a drone of my own for forty thousand dollars. I could think of some pretty cool things to do with a couple of drones. I can think of a few startups off the top of my head (which I doubt I’d want to ever actually start).

Yes, the future is looking very drone-filled indeed. Drones drones drones. I don’t know if it’s the future we want, but it’s the one we’re likely to get.

I have to point out that the FAA hasn’t yet approved domestic drones. They see a lot of issues to be resolved first, starting with how to deal with drones that crash (as is happening a lot this week). So for now – in the U.S. at least – it is in the hands of the government as to whether or not this plays out.

But with a few more iterations on the technology, plus a little lobbying effort on the part of companies who make drones, I expect we might see a dramatic change in the way our skies are used.

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