Game of drones

     Look to the skies. The drones have arrived. And they are delivering packages to your front door. Drones were once an expensive gadget for flight enthusiasts who wanted a step up from a toy helicopter tied to a hand-held tether. As drone technology advanced and prices dropped, these mini flying machines became faster, lighter, and more popular than ever.

     Drones have become the instrument of choice for photographers who want to take ariel pictures of places inaccessible by land routes. Impenetrable jungles are now able to be explored on a screen as a camera attached to a flying drone sends photos back to the operator miles away. One of the most eerie sights I’ve seen is a video of a drone tour of the Russian city of Chernobyl after a horrible nuclear accident turned the city into a ghost town. The silent footage of the drone’s flight through deserted streets was disturbing to watch. The fly-over scenes of an abandoned amusement park were absolutely chilling. I’ve also seen footage from drones flying in the most unlikely of places – the swampland of southern Florida. On the television series Swamp People, drones outfitted with heat-seeking infrared thermography were used with to track down an elusive 20 ft. python wreaking havoc in the swamp. The drone pinpointed the snakes exact location and the snake hunters were able to capture the hidden reptile.

     Drones are now being put to use in many areas of business. UPS has partnered with hospitals to test a pilot program where drones deliver time-sensitive organ donations between facilities quicker than conventional shipping options. African villages are receiving medical supplies dropped off by drones in areas that could never be reached before. Google has begun experimenting with their drone delivery system dropping off packages to homes in a test market area of Virginia. As time moves forward, more companies are jumping on the drone bandwagon.

     The ubiquitous Amazon.com is poised to become the leader in drone package delivery. Amazon’s chief consumer officer says the company is using A.I. (artificial intelligence) and smart technology to program drones so they can make their own flight decisions to help avoid collisions with people, power lines and obstacles on the ground. What could possibly go wrong? In this age of instant gratification, on-line shoppers want instant delivery of their purchases. Some reports say delivery by drone within an hour of your purchase is on the horizon (and landing right in your backyard).

     However, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) still has a lot to say about a sky full of delivery drones becoming a reality. There are regulations regarding flight patterns and air space restrictions that are strictly enforced. I know a photographer who uses his drone for ariel photographs for his work at a newspaper. He received a call from the FAA regarding a complaint from someone who thought his drone was flying too close to restricted air space near a local military base. Luckily he knew the rules and where the boundaries were so his machine was flying within legal limits.

     Public opinion hasn’t embraced the thought of drones buzzing over private property. As the technology becomes more commonplace, more rules and regulations will have to be put in place so people aren’t watching the equivalent of a Drone Demolition Derby in the sky as they sit on their front porch to view the sunset. A few local towns have banned leaf blowers. I can’t imagine these town giving the green light to buzzing flying machines no matter how quiet they are.

     With a flick of a switch and the push of a lever, drones are about to become commonplace. So easy to use even a two-year-old child can fly one. I know this from personal experience. A co-worker’s two-year old nephew found his uncle’s drone controller and was able to get the machine off the ground. Kids are advancing as fast as today’s technology. There’s a scary thought.

     As the advent of drones was being discussed on television, an FAA spokesperson tried to project a more grounded image of the future of drone technology. She said, “Not everyone is about to get tacos or burritos delivered by drones.”

     Although if there’s a high enough consumer demand, remember to keep your head down on Taco Tuesdays.

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