Another one from Matt…while I get my act together with the next What’s Next.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs are not a new invention. In 1849, Austria attacked Venice using unmanned balloons filled with bombs. Since then, UAVs — or “drones” as they are commonly known — have been used in several wars as decoys and reconnaissance aircraft. In recent years, they have also been armed with laser-guided missiles and bombs and used — somewhat controversially — by the US to attack targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Drones are also taking off in the hobbyist sector, typically in the form of quadcopters. These work with two sets of counter-rotating blades, which makes them inherently more stable, easier to control, and cheaper to produce than radio-controlled helicopters or planes. Many can be controlled using a smartphone or tablet, and most come equipped with a camera for taking photos and video. They’re cheap, too — you can pick up tiny ones for as little as $15 on Amazon.
As well as flying for fun, quadcopters are being used in an ever-growing variety of ways, including surveillance, filmmaking, journalism, law enforcement, scientific research, and archaeology. Delivery drones are a hot area: they’ve already been used to deliver medicines, and many companies are looking into using drones for commercial goods delivery, from Amazon’s “Prime Air” service to the TacoCopter, delivering — you guessed it — tacos to smartphone-equipped hipsters in the SF Bay Area.
However, there are still obstacles to overcome, mainly to do with regulation and safety. This year, a rather disturbing video of a quadcopter appearing to fire a handgun appeared on YouTube. There are also many privacy issues to think about. Most countries have fairly tight regulation around UAVs, and it’s not yet legal to use them commercially in the US (which is the main reason we haven’t seen Amazon Prime Air yet). However, this regulation is likely to become more flexible over time. In a few years from now, drones might be as commonplace as buses on your local high street.