At long last, commercial drone technology has developed to the point where businesses and consumers alike can take them to the skies for fun and profit. The benefits of mass drone flight are projected to be enormous, with applications ranging from instant package delivery to manufacturing to lifestyle video-blogging. But a series of poor proposals from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) threatens to ground major parts of this hot industry just as it starts to take flight.
Drones, or “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) as the acronymically-inclined like to call them, are merely computers with wings. They range in size from charming toys weighing under a few pounds to crafts that are almost large enough for human passengers. They can be controlled by a human operator on the ground, like a model aircraft, or they can be pre-programmed to autonomously zip across the skyline on their own, aided by a series of gyroscopes, aerodynamic blades, transmitters, sensors, and cameras that allow these winged robots to quickly detect and avoid objects in their flight path.
Drones can act as synthetic extensions of ourselves, allowing us to explore and interact with environments far beyond our normal reach. As mobile computers, they help us to better extract useful data from the world around us to improve how we get things done. And as platforms for engagement with a new airspace frontier, they are a critical check on government power and a possible tool for resistance to those in oppressive situations. They’re really, really cool, and they’re poised to contribute much to both our economy and general standard of living.