The versatility of drones has led to their exploitation in a vast range of activities and fields
Drones have become one of the hottest items to purchase for both professional and leisure activities. They are most popular topics in the media. Indeed, their use is virtually limitless. Drones are now being employed for just about anything, anywhere.
What is a Drone?
Drones, which are officially known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have been popularly dubbed as such for the similarities they exhibit, in flight, with bees and wasps. Indeed, drones are actually just one element of an unmanned aircraft system, which includes a UAV, a ground-based control station (or remote for the simplest drones), and a communication system between the two elements. Drone flight may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either under remote control by a human operator or autonomously thanks to on- and off-board computers.
Although drones are considered quintessentially contemporary, they actually have a long history that dates back to the dawn of the 20th century. Indeed, the first drones – unmanned, bomb-filled hot air balloons – were employed by the Austrian Army in 1849, while, by 1915, Nicola Tesla had already envisioned and described a fleet of unmanned combat vehicles.
The United States Air Force initiated a highly classified UAV programme in the early 1960s that led to the development of the first true combat and espionage drones that were used throughout the cold war. Since then, the progress of technology has allowed the development of increasingly more sophisticated UAVs capable of operating anywhere around the globe.
In the last ten years, basic drones have become so cheap that this aircraft – once conceived for missions that were too dangerous for humans to complete – are now massively employed for policing, monitoring, surveillance, search and rescue, product delivery, aerial photography and many other uses.
Civilian drones now vastly outnumber military UAVs due to their widespread availability and low cost. In fact, they represent 99% of the market in the United States alone, although in terms of spending this sector is dwarfed by the costs of military UAVs. Most recently, drones have been hyped for their commercial product delivery potential, although it remains to be seen when, if ever, this will become reality.
Regulating Drone Use
Commercial drone use is currently limited, but expected to blossom as soon as policy makers turn to perfecting legislation in this new budding sector. Even toy drones can pose serious safety problems and it is urgent that this sector be quickly addressed, even to stem any potential safety threats to the population at large.
The American Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) already have legislation in place, as do many other countries around the world, but this quickly expanding sector requires closer attention. In Europe, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is examining several proposals that address the issue of drone misuse and enforcement. These include requirements for drones to be remotely identifiable, include geo-fencing technology to block them from entering airports, nuclear facilities, and other high-risk areas.
A futuristic personal transport drone project was unveiled at CES 2016. Basically, the project calls for the use of drones to transport people. And drone “taxi” fleets may actually become the next big thing in personal transport, well before the rise of private flying cars.
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