Pie in the Sky?

Updated: 2015-02-27 10:28

By Christopher Davis(China Daily USA)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Show stoppers

The so-called drone zone at the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month was a swarming hive of every conceivable size and shape of the buzzing gizmos. The show's organizers said the drone market could reach $130 million in 2015, 50 percent higher than in 2014.

Showgoers were treated to demonstrations of a "selfie drone" that flew up to 200 feet above a person's head and circled, giving them a 360-degree self-portrait and a pink drone to convince female customers that the joy of droning is not just for geeky guys.

Most of the vendors at the show agreed that the two main obstacles to drones really taking off remained battery-life and regulations.

"Battery life is only one of the limiters," Anderson said. "They don't have to be electric. You can have gas-powered drones. There are drones that have flown across the Atlantic Ocean. You can make any kind of drone you want. It can be an airplane, a helicopter, it can be gas-powered, and it can be electric-powered. If you want it to be very small and take off vertically and hover, that's likely to be electric and their battery power is a limiting factor in terms of time and distance. But if you're willing to accept things that don't hover or don't hover all that long or are bigger, then there's no reason why you can't take a 747 and turn it into a drone. That's what it is for the most part of its flight. It's on autopilot essentially a drone."

The average battery life for both budget and economy drones is about 20 minutes, with some barely eking out 10 minutes, and there is no sign of that improving any time soon, experts said.

Anderson said the main barriers are in safety and regulation. "It's not legal to fly in congested areas, like over people's homes right now in the US," he said. "The problem is ensuring that they are so safe and reliable that you can convince regulators to allow them to fly around people."

The long-awaited FAA rules governing private drone use in the US ended up coming out earlier than planned because they were accidently leaked on the agency's website and they couldn't take them down fast enough.

The new rules, which are technically open to debate and won't go into effect for a year, are "more lax than first feared", according to 3-D Robotics blogger Roger Sollenberger.

Key points

The key points in the regulations, according to the Verge, are that when the rules go into effect about 7,000 companies would start using drones for such chores as inspecting cell towers and monitoring forest fires. Government agencies using drones will have to disclose what they've been doing with the data they collect. Operators for private companies will have to pass a certification test (but not hobbyists, for who little changes).

The rules do not paint a rosy horizon for Amazon's ambitions for drone delivery service, however. Under the proposed rules, drones would not be able to operate beyond the pilot's line of sight and anyone on the ground underneath its flight path would have to be directly associated with the project.

Amazon responded to the regulations, warning the FAA that if it did not relax that stipulation, they would move their research operation outside of the US.

"Without the ability to test outdoors in the United States soon, we will have no choice but to divert even more of our [drone] research and development resources abroad," said Amazon's vice-president of global public policy Paul Misener in a letter to the FAAp>"I fear the FAA may be questioning the fundamental benefits of keeping [drone] technology innovation in the United States," said Misener.

"The use of drones is going to be ubiquitous, it's going to be at scale, it's going to be across every sector of the economy," said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition.

"It has to be automated, it has to be safe, it has to be responsible, it will create efficiencies the likes of which, someday soon, we won't know how we lived without them because they will be so important."

In Japan, they've been using drones for agriculture for more than a decade. In Canada, drones of 2.2 kilograms and less are allowed for commercial use under the law.

"The FAA has good intentions, but they're dealing with a very difficult issue for an agency that deals with manned aviation, they are not the people who deal typically with unmanned aviation," Drobac said.

"The proposed rule is not going to work," he said. "Technology will win."

"Whenever you have something that makes consumers happy, that creates efficiencies, that is proven to work," he said, "when you have something that will make human lives safer, and it's innovative and exciting, it will prevail over any obstacles."

"It has to happen or we're going to watch other countries as really bystanders as the technology really takes off," he said. "I know that we're going to come out on the right side of this because there are too many companies in the US that are exploring the possibilities and they're limitless."

The FAA has acknowledged that there are more than 300 markets that could benefit from UAV technology. What real estate agent wouldn't use them to provide bird's-eye views of their listings, he said, and how many real estate agents are there?

Contact the writer at chrisdavis@chinadailyusa.com

Previous Page 1 2 3 Next Page