One of the highlights of Lady Gaga’s amazing halftime show at Super Bowl LI was the formation of Shooting Star drones that filled the sky with an American flag as she recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The 300-drone formation, choreographed by the Drone Team at Intel Corp., was the first time such a large number of drones was used in a way that was seen by a huge worldwide audience.
For most of the public, the idea of drones are either as military weapons, or small toys used for taking photos at beaches or weddings. But, like many military technologies, or tools for entertainment, this next-wave is going to become increasingly visible and useful in many different applications.
Amazon made news last year when it was reported the company is looking into options for using drones for package delivery. While the logistics of hundreds of packages flying around the skies and dropping on people’s heads made the story seem far-fetched, it was an early sign that the mass use of unmanned flying devices is being seriously researched for numerous applications.
Some of these may be obvious, such as sending drones with cameras and microphones into dangerous or otherwise unreachable areas to protect the lives of military or first responders. The use of fast-moving devices to search wide areas of difficult terrain, and even larger devices that can perform search and rescue missions in becoming increasingly likely.
There are, of course, safety and privacy concerns. For Lady Gaga’s American flag, that sequence had to be taped in advance due to prohibitions on flying drones over people. There are worries about people using drones to buzz commercial aircraft, or spy into people’s homes, requiring the registration of commercial drones with the FAA, and prompting discussion about the regulation of private flights. And the law isn’t anywhere near figuring out what happens if that drone carrying your Amazon (or Daily Steals!) package drops it onto a neighbor’s car. But, as with any other disruptive technology - people were just as freaked out when the trains rolled through in the 19th century and cars hit the roads in the 20th - innovations will continue to make drone safer, more practical, and even essential.
Parents can have a drone follow their children as they walk to school to be sure they get there safely. Someday, a drone will walk the dog when it’s raining - or even replace service dogs for people who are blind or others who need help with mobility. Drones will rush to the scene of an accident and will be able to begin emergency procedures while reporting to EMTs to prepare them for arrival. They’ll mow your lawn, pick up milk from the deli and perform other mundane tasks. Just as robots can vacuum rooms, or build a car, drones will occupy a similar space.
Part of the reason the growth of drones will happen faster than robotics did is that it’s easier for people to hop on board with the technology. Families are seeing drones at festivals and fairs around the country, and - like with the Super Bowl - the technology is more visible. Buying a drone to fly around and take pictures is fun, and could be the best gift to buy your child to prepare them for a future career in tech. So watch the skies for the new and exciting opportunities that will open up in the years ahead.