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  • THE DRONE ECONOMY

    Welcome to a very different world – as different as the world that we discovered after the computer became a household item and transitioned to the powerful device that we all carry and rely on to do amazing technological things. The drone is the next in line – some have likened drones to the “new apps.” Just as when computers began, drones’ capabilities today are only being used to a small extent. But, as with computers, people are finding applications for drones faster than technology developers or regulators can keep up. They’re also finding more places to deploy the devices. Most of the attention, to date, has gone to drones that fly – but there are also expectations that the driverless car arena will depend strongly on drones and latest developments include assistance in rail networks and on farms and on the seas. And, in the process, of course, there are the people who write the software, make the antennas, sensors and other pieces that allow the technology to operate, and those who build the cars, trucks, planes and boats that utilize the technical aspects (details reported in Seattle Business, January, 2017). In addition, there are those who collect and analyze data collected by drones. All-in-all, this amounts to the Drone Economy. It’s already a big enterprise – and as the saying goes, “We ain’t seen nothing yet!” A job-generating tech sector specifically related to drones is already operating in many states, and entire industries stand to be reshaped by products and services that are already being brought to market. Driverless cars, trucks, boats and planes are simply the latest steps in a long line of small steps that already have transportation systems such as those at Sea-Tac Airport and the SkyTrain system in British Columbia operating without on-board drivers, as well as, remote controlled locomotives that have long been used in switching yards. Specialists in the field of drone technology say that technologies that make autonomous vehicles and aircraft possible started out as solutions to other problems. In aviation, for example, where weight and space are always critical, the continuous drive for lighter and stronger materials made drones possible by dramatically shrinking the size, weight and power requirements. In automobiles, technologies developed to make driving safer, such as parking assistance and collision warning systems – these and other advances can easily be extended to a goal of removing human drivers from the process. Drone advances have also benefited from developments in the medical field – charging platforms for implantable medical devices were the instigation for wireless recharging systems for aerial, marine and land drones. Technology has improved the vehicles, themselves, but also the on-board cameras and the images and data that they transmit. The early days of drones as toys that had technical limitations were greatly enhanced by customers who took the drones and their uses seriously and assisted in making them better and more powerful vehicles with commercial potential.
    Drones and their current abilities are allowing live-streaming that was never possible before – and this has energized marketing and other creative segments of the economy. On-demand delivery is another of the areas that has grown exponentially but that also is expected to be a much more powerful wave of the future. Both Walmart and Amazon are relying on drone technology to offer 30-minute delivery. And, we thought that Amazon was quick with their deliveries already! Near-instant delivery will likely make trips to the store unnecessary. Currently, there are cutesy marketing approaches that utilize drones. For example, the Casa Madrona hotel in California offers champagne delivery via drone; a UK florist dropped roses throughout Romeo and Juliet’s hometown on a recent Valentine’s Day with its “Cupidrone;” and an ad for PepsiMax has a drone assisting in finding friends at a live music festival. More and more uses for the future – many of them will even be serious uses – just think: FaceBook replaced by a drone.
    And, of course, there are uses of even higher gravitas: As this LEAD ZINE goes to press, Boeing has just been awarded a major Navy contract to build drones.
    We’re entering the age of the drone – whether we like the idea of drones flying into our yards, or not. The regulators will have to sort out those small details – but be prepared for drones to change your life sometime soon!