Drones get a bad rap, mainly because the ones that make it to the news are launching missiles at people thousands of miles away. But there’s more to unmanned aircraft than warfare. Drone technology is increasingly being applied to more innocuous activities as well, and could prove efficient for things like monitoring ice floes in the arctic or, yes, delivering your pizza. And according to some venture capitalists, drone technology could be the next big-ticket item for investors.
“Drones hold the promise of companies anticipating our every need and delivering without human involvement,” Tim Draper, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Hotmail and Skype, told Bloomberg. “Everything from pizza delivery to personal shopping can be handled by drones.”
According to Bloomberg, U.S. investors put over $40 million into drone-related startups so far this year – more than double the amount of all of last year. Sales of civilian drones, also called civilian unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, will top $8 billion by 2020. And investment in drone-related startups has soared.
“There’s so much potential for drones,” Mike Winn, CEO of DroneDeploy, an unmanned aircraft startup, told Fox Business. “The big thing a lot of people are talking about is agriculture. Farmers being able to use drones to better predict their crop yields, to be able to better manage their resources.”
He also said drones could be applied in mining and oil production or maintaining high voltage power lines – or even personal shopping. “We’re just scratching the surface right now,” he said.
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But on the topic of pizza delivery drones, Winn said we’re still a few years shy of seeing that happen. “Drones aren’t going to be used in open environments for a good few years,” he told Fox Business. “They’re simply not that reliable. I’m not sure they are better than a guy on a motorcycle right now.”
This “drone economy” we could be entering isn’t without its naysayers, of course. Some have voiced their concerns of us becoming a “surveillance society” where our every moves are monitored, charted and entered into a spreadsheet. “Without limits on data retention, it will only be a matter of time before the government and other drone users can compile dossiers of personal information about innocent people, including their travel and behavioral patterns, where they work, what they do for fun, and what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches they may visit,” Allie Bohm, who works for the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in a blog post. “For this reason, it is imperative that the government delete captured information within days or weeks at most, unless there are legitimate reasons to retain records.” The challenge will be ensuring that information collected by drones for one purpose is not used for a totally different and harmful one.
It’ll be awhile before every Average Joe or every corner pizza joint has a drone buzzing around our neighborhoods. Many remote controlled drones cost about the same as a used car – about $10,000 to $12,000. There’s also the cost of having someone remotely pilot the drone. “What’s more, the cost of insuring/replacing a drone damaged by, say, weather, vandalizing Luddites or teenage delinquents could be considerable,” Quartz noted.
Right now we’re wondering, do you tip a delivery drone?