Drones can be used for more than just war.Already, companies like FedEx are counting the days until drones are admitted to standard US airspace. The FAA will officially allow it starting in 2015, but the drones cannot fly higher than 400 feet above the ground and must be at least five miles away from any airport.
FedEx wants to be able to use drones to transport packages, rather than having to rely on passenger planes. That’s because passenger planes need to be pressurised, which is expensive, and they also can’t fly in formation, which is much more efficient.
Meanwhile, there’s a growing community of amateurs who build and fly their own drones. The drones typically have two-foot long wings and weigh about two pounds.
Chris Anderson, former editor in chief at Wired, and co-founder of 3D Robotics and founder of DIY DRONES, is helping lead the charge.
Anderson started DIY DRONES, a social network for people interested in aerial robotics, in 2007. Since launch, DIY DRONES has grown to a community of 33,000 active members who fly drones that they have either been made themselves, or purchased from companies like 3D Robotics.
In 10 years, Anderson thinks it won’t be uncommon to see drones flying in the air.
Anderson is currently working on a “follow me box,” which is basically a phone-sized box you would wear on your belt to summon a droid and have it follow you around with a camera.
For example, if you’re a surfer who wants footage of yourself tearing up the waves, you would press a button on your “follow-me box” and the droid would fly out to you, position itself above you, and start shooting. Once the battery gets low, the droid would detect that and land itself on the beach.
People are already using drones to do things like find hikers and skiers in need of rescuing, take aerial imagery of homes and other properties, and survey archaeological sites in Africa.
“What we’re doing wasn’t possible 10 years ago,” Anderson tells Business Insider. “The reason drones are popular now is because smartphones are popular.”What he means is that the creation of smartphones has led to advanced technology, like gyroscopes, accelerometers, armed processors, and GPS, that make it possible to produce cheap, functioning autopilots.
Anderson also compares the rise of personal drones to the rise of the personal computer.
“[Computers are] in a class of technology that previously existed and then people started adding the word personal to it,” Anderson says. “The user and the new class of users are what revolutionised the industry, not the computer itself. Democratization of technology is not about technology, it’s about who uses it.”
Anderson says that by adding the word “personal” to drones, the industry has opened up to a consumer class that will find more interesting ways to use them.
“It’s part of a longstanding trend to take technology from the few and give it to the many,” Anderson says.
Anderson is now working full-time at 3D Robotics as CEO, after leaving his position at Wired last month. Shortly after he made the switch, 3D Robotics raised $5 million from True Ventures and O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures.
By the end of January, Anderson plans to pivot the company from DIY to plug-and-play, where all of the drones come ready to fly.