The FAA is currently reviewing rules for the operation of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) within the United States. This is a pretty hot topic for a number of reasons. The currently interested party is law enforcement, but that will soon change. This is how you will probably see the progress of the UAV’s intrusion into your life.
The local municipalities will immediately invest in a number of these toys for the obvious reason that they are cheaper than a helicopter and provide a better level of service. For example, UAV’s have the advantage of having a quicker time to flight since pre-flight checks are simplified without the risk of human life. They could in theory be launched from law enforcement headquarters, or satellite locations throughout the city. Also, without the human payload and the supporting structure, they are much lighter, giving a longer time in the air.
Cheaper means that a law enforcement agency can possibly afford 2 or more. So while they may start out being used for tracking fugitives, they soon will morph to other areas, such a speed monitoring and routine patrols. Eventually, law enforcement UAV presence will be 24/7.
But the cops aren’t the only ones that get to have all the fun. Expect the next on the scene to be the news agencies. Start with traffic, which is very expensive to produce currently and generally sucks compared to online offerings. A quick UAV flight of major choke points will be a cheaper alternative. The next progression will likely be breaking news. At some point in the near future, expect any major crime to have a hornet’s nest of police and news UAVs buzzing around the scene.
So now we have the police and media making serious commercial use of UAV’s, likely to the point where prices start to drop. There will be a tipping point where it will become financially possible to use UAV’s for advertisement. At that point, unless there is sufficient rule making, the skies are going to be filled with these flying buggers.
So now that there is a thriving commercial market, technological innovation will advance rapidly. This will come in three areas. First, camera optics will advance allowing much better observation. Second, we will see advancement in power sources, such as fuel cells and batteries. Third will be the reduction in the size of UAV’s. Up until now, we have been talking about UAV’s the size of a Piper or Cessna. When it becomes profitable and power technology is sufficiently advanced, UAV’s will start to shrink. Once they get less than a couple of feet, society will change radically.
Imagine we have UAV’s the size of a purse. Privacy in public will be lost. There will not be a space so small that a UAV will not be able to fill. How will trespassing laws adapt to UAV’s that can park themselves completely around a building covering every window and door? With speeds far exceeding any automobile and better maneuverability to boot, you have the ultimate paparazzi. Public conversations would no longer be private. A simple mention of personal information in public could lead to identity theft. Particularly brazen thieves might employ UAV’s for snatch and grab crimes.
The presence of drones will open a Pandora’s Box for the average citizen. With their extended reach, the power of the government and commercial interests will intrude upon a great many aspects of our personal lives. Hopefully, legislators are smart enough to see the storm coming before we have too large of a mess.