By Samantha Hautea
Editor’s note: Samantha’s article is the first of three articles written by the Flip the Media GeekWire Summit 2014 team.
3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson isn’t convinced that the future of drone technology lies with consumers.
“Moore’s law is moving faster in our pockets than it has in any other area of technology in our history,” Anderson said during his talk on drone technology at yesterday’s GeekWire Summit.
He was referring to the observation, formulated by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. The practical result? More powerful, smaller devices that cost less to make. Mobile phone technology, a prime example of this phenomenon, is largely what powers drones, providing function such as GPS tracking and cloud storage.
But for the same reason, Anderson doesn’t think there will be a day that every American has a drone. Instead, he predicts that at some point, the functionality of the GoPro—the camera of choice for those who use drones to capture aerial perspectives—will make its way onto the smartphone.
“A better question might be, ‘when are smartphones going to fly?’” he joked.
Anderson believes there will be a consumer market for technology that will enable taking extreme selfies (or “dronies”) on a scale never seen before, but it will be far outpaced by commercial use. There are applications for drones in sectors such as real estate, agriculture and insurance. A drone mounted with a camera is essentially a mobile 3D scanner and can gather information on physical characteristics, topography, or architecture or track movement. Eventually, drones may even be used to remotely deliver packages.
The possibilities are only limited by our imagination. “If you’re in an industry that can use data about our world from a new perspective,” Anderson said, “you can use a drone.”
It may be a long time before drones become a common sight in American skies. Current laws prevent the commercial use of drones in America, and the strong association with military use and invasion of privacy means the general public remains mistrustful of drone technology. Still, Anderson remains optimistic. “All technology, as they get democratized, becomes reasonable. They will be misused. It’s our job in the industry to keep the jackasses from doing stupid stuff.”
Chad Copeland, a National Geographic photographer, also provided his perspective as a user of drone technology. He has used drones to take stunning aerial videos and photographs in areas where conventional aerial photography would be impractical or potentially harmful to the environment, especially in the case of an equipment malfunction.
“Economically and environmentally, it still has a small footprint,” he explained, pointing out that drones are made from light materials that are relatively less expensive to produce. By showing people the positive uses of drones, he believes it is possible to change public perception.
So do they have any tips for aspiring drone pilots?
Both Anderson and Copeland believe in the importance of keeping up to date with the basic laws governing privacy and unmanned aircraft systems, specifically citing Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
Anderson emphasized the need for practice. A simple remote-operated toy is a cost-friendly way for users to familiarize themselves with flying and gain confidence before they start experimenting with using a camera.
“It’s about starting small,” Copeman added. Given that higher-end drones can set back an enthusiast by well over $6,000, caution is warranted. “Fly something that does not have a camera. Fly a lot. I went from nothing to flying a drone in about six weeks, and another six weeks to fly it well.”