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Civilian Drones Deliver Everything From Mail To Wedding Rings

Shruti Sharma |
November 14, 2013 | 5:22 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Drone (Flickr/Don McCullough)
Drone (Flickr/Don McCullough)

A sky filled with drones; this is not a futuristic dream anymore, it is quickly becoming reality.

Before you panic, rest assured that this not some intergalactic war we're talking about. But if venture capitalists are to be believed, civilian drones are coming to a doorstep near you.

Drones have been rather successful in military usage already. The FAA is already working on regulations for civilain drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Congress is to trying to expedite the matter, pushing the FAA to prepare regulations by 2015.

Startups have already started exploring the possibilities of civilian drones and potential deployment opportunites. Google Venture and venture capitalist Tim Draper are backing DroneDeploy, a startup based in San Fransico, California. DroneDeploy develops management platforms that help the user perform operations with drones. Google Venture also claims to have invested in another drone startup which it refuses to name.

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The most anticipated commercial uses of drones for the civilians is express delivery - that includes everything from pizza to medical aid. The possibilities for the science community are endless. Environmental enthuisiasts even believe that drones can be used to monitor the melting ice caps or depleting forests. Ira Kalb, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California, shed some light on all the aspects of commercial drones in a recent article for Business Insider.

But as with every new technology, drones have distinct drawbacks as well.

For regulatory officials, control and monitoring of civilian drones is incredibly difficult. Developing procedures to manage drone operations will undoubtedly be a challenge for the FAA and implementation of such laws will be even tougher. Kalb's take on this issue is that having drones flying in the sky is similar to amateurs driving on the roads. Without taking altitude limitations and area restrictions into respect, poorly-constructed airspace regulations could create inevitably lead to civilian drones colliding with commercial aircraft.

Kalb's solution is remarkably novel: map airspace like traffic enginers design roadways.

To adequately regulate individual drones, airspace technology would need to be as advanced as roadways. Automated controlling and monitoring systems would function both like the traffic lights and tracking devices for the drones. Current proposals limit us in imagining a world with drones safely flying in the sky, but with advancement of technology, Kalb believes such flights of fancy are indeed possible.

Drones also come with legitimate privacy concerns. Anyone can use drones to track your daily activities or listen in on your conversation by hovering around over your head. Kalb, however, thinks visibility will impede civilian drones' to be as discreet as military spy planes.

"We might still be getting spied on. Thousands of feet above the ground, there might be a spy plane listening in on our conversation and no one will find out. But with drones it's more obvious because you can see them," he added.

Regardless, it might be difficult for people the accept drones flying around their neighboorhood. Not to mention that the more visible something is, the more easily it can be protested.

Considering the wide availability of drones currently in the marketplace, the only thing holding back the commercial use of drones is FAA approval. Bigger businesses like UPS, FedEx, and Amazon can already afford to mobilize drones for deliveries. Time will tell whether or not civilians will be as quick to adopt drones for more mundane tasks.

In the meanwhile, if you are a drone enthusiast, you still have the option to purchase your own drone and fly it around just as a hobby. Or deliver wedding rings at your drone geek friend's wedding.


You can reach reporter Shruti Sharma here.



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