Current affairs

The drone revolution

What does the future really hold for drones?

Wednesday, 15 de February, 2017

By Ángel Barbero, lecturer on the Master in Online Marketing and Digital Commerce at EAE Business School

In 2013, a small social network emerged in France known as Dronestagram, which enabled users to share the photographs taken by our beloved drones with the rest of the world. Although it has no more than a few tens of thousands of users, it is interesting to browse through the photos and videos that the users upload, as it gives us a better insight into a phenomenon that is now highly consolidated among us.

It might be a good excuse to dust off that Chinese drone they gave you for Christmas that you only used a couple of time before it got shoved away in a cupboard. Drones are now one of the leading techie gifts. From the most sophisticated designed by Parrot, a company that this product pulled back from the brink, down to the Chinese mini-drones that can be purchased on any Asian eCommerce website, we have all had the chance to see these remote-controlled aircraft with batteries that always last the blink of an eye.

But what does the future really hold for drones? If we look at their use on the mass market, it is interesting to see their growth as a gadget, but their use has not become widespread for a number of reasons. Besides being complicated to use, the batteries are still very limited and they are not very autonomous. In addition, Spanish legislation (and likewise the law in many countries) is extremely restrictive, making their use in the open air almost impossible.

However, we encourage you to watch some videos of drone races, for example, a sport that is growing in popularity, spectacular to watch and safe to play. Using augmented reality glasses, players fly their drone while watching the video recorded by their cameras in real time. It is often hard to tell whether you are watching a science fiction movie or a live film.

You could also check out the video of this year’s Super Bowl. During Lady Gaga’s concert, 300 drones flying in coordinated formation lit up the sky, drawing the logo of a well-known drink. The technical implications of so many coordinated elements in the sky are huge, but the result could not have been more effective.

However, one area in which a more significant use is emerging is independent transport. Drones that can carry people have already been tested, as well as other that can carry up to 300 kg in weight, making it easy to imagine a future in which goods or small crews can be flown over significant distances. As we know, Amazon is already testing a program to transport its customers’ packages (Amazon Prime Air) and, a few months ago, Domino’s delivered its first pizza by drone.

We must also remember the role that drones have in modern warfare that is spreading around the globe: remote surveillance and espionage, unmanned attacks, access to protected areas, etc. In this respect, it is scary and saddening to see how an object with the potential to do so much good in the world can become a lethal weapon.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are all of the possible uses designed to improve people’s lives: transporting medicines, food and water to isolated settlements, improvements in farming and livestock operations and fighting crime.

To make all of this possible, work is being carried out on certain aspects of drones. Firstly, in terms of artificial intelligence, in the same way as their cousins, driverless cars, or in the company of other drones (swarms). Secondly, with respect to autonomy, based on the duration of the battery, which will be a critical factor in covering greater distances and lifting heavier loads off the floor.

One thing that is clear is that, as drones also raise a number of ethical issues into which we are starting to gain insight with artificial intelligence and new technologies, another aspect that has to evolve is the legal side. As we have seen clearly on other occasions, the law always lags behind society and digital advances, so it will be interesting to see how the use of these devices is regulated in the future.

In any event, it is fascinating to read the reports in the new advances that are being developed in the field of these flying vehicles. I am sure that, before long and almost without realising, we will see drones gliding above our heads. We must make sure that nobody feels threatened by them.

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