A hundred years ago, if people were asked how they imagined transportation would be in the future, they might have said flying cars. Though we’re still waiting for that technology, we do have drones.
Drones aren’t flying cars—good luck trying to drive one—but the number of ways to use them is growing. More formally called unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), these gadgets that look like miniature helicopters that can reach speeds up to 100 mph and carry more than 5,000 pounds, depending on make and model.
Most people know drones as a source of fun and entertainment. After signing a contract with the Drone Racing League in 2016, EPSN has even started broadcasting drone racing. As most folks are aware, drones can be used to take aerial pictures, a capability that has been enthusiastically embraced by real estate companies to capture the best possible view of properties. Agricultural companies also use drones to survey land and take photographs or film.
Local company Drone Aviation Holding Corp. works with the military to specialize in drone manufacturing. With products such as the Winch Aerostat Small Platform (WASP), and the company’s tethering system, FUSE, which allows drones to operate continuously, drones can take on more powerful and practical roles. Relatively lightweight, the WASP allows a detection and communication range up to 40 miles between different servers, and can carry up to 130 pounds of weight.
“[Free flying drones can] lose control and cause crashes. The tether [has] been a fix to this and used since the Civil War and now in the Army,” said Drone Aviation’s Michael Glickman.
The tethering system offers a safer and easier way to operate a drone while providing a continuous source of power and a direct line of communication with the pilot. Drone Aviation also works with the government and local police forces. Next time you’re outside in a large crowd, look up; you might see one of their drones.
Drones are useful for first responders as well. They’re much cheaper to operate than helicopters, so departments can afford to purchase, maintain, pilot and store more of them. Drones allow responders to survey an area before sending people into the scene. This may help lower the risk of injury for first responders by giving them a better idea of the conditions they are entering. Also, drones can better help locate hostages or assess a dangerous situation without drawing the attention of the suspects or the risking the lives of law enforcement, victims or first responders, situations in which maintaining a low profile can literally be the difference between life and death.
Another local company, Built Drones, says Nassau County has started to use drones with the first responders and homicide units. They’re still exploring ways to utilize drones’ ability to detect heat, whether in a fire scene or to locate a person by body heat. Last year, a company called Zipline started deploying drones to deliver blood transfusions and vaccines to remote areas like Rwanda.
“Different drones are meant for different things. [However], it is important to be mindful of the environment,” said Justin Stevens, an engineer with Built Drones.
There’s a recurring theme at both Drone Aviation and Built Drones: communication. Both companies believe drones have more practical uses than just entertainment; they see them as communication tools. Drone Aviation chairman Jay H. Nussbaum sees drones as invaluable instruments for gathering data and information. Last year, he told Yahoo Business, “More than an aerial hardware platform, our technology can economically address the evolving requirements for data and information that can help provide protection and security to our military and to civilians.”
Once that information is collected, it can be relayed electronically to law enforcement, government, medical aid, disaster relief providers, etc. Because each drone has a unique IP address, the information can be tracked back to the source.
Due to the unique privacy and safety concerns inherent in flying these top-notch drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has created regulations governing their use. (Hobby drones that can be purchased in many retail establishments are not subject to these regulations.) If you’re using drones to collect data for commercial, government or other such purposes, you should first find out whether you need a license to fly it as well as to register it.
Though we’re not going to see people flying around in drones anytime soon, the gadgets may be making a delivery to your home or business in the near future. In the United Kingdom, Amazon has received permission to test drone delivery. Time will tell, but this service has the potential to provide faster and easier delivery. Drones also have exhibited properties that can possibly be utilized for space travel and may be used in future missions, though such would require a drone capable of withstanding the extreme environment of space. As the technology advances and drones become more popular, perhaps those flying cars will be on the market sooner rather than later.