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The FAA is still figuring it out, and all of us who love maps are drooling over the potential of high definition photography and even virtual reality for creating high definition maps and 360 degree views of locations all over the globe. The private drone sector is exploding as smaller craft become both more affordable and more advanced.
As these flying machines fill the sky, not only will the data they gather help enhance mapping products, but that same data will help enhance the usefulness of the drones themselves.
Mapping Where Drones Are Registered
The FAA rules now state even private, non commercial drones must be registered if they are over .55 pound, or 8.8 ounces when flight ready. This means if once extended life batteries or other accessories are added the drone exceeds this weight it must be registered, and the registration number displayed legibly on the aircraft.
Some smaller drones and most medium to large consumer drones such as the Parrot AR exceed this weight. Tracking where these drones are and how they are being used is an important part of this process. Time has created this interactive map to show where drones are most popular at the moment.
Map Courtesy Time
As this data grows, more mapping will become necessary, and more data will be included in the mapping process.
Current Uses of Drones
Law Enforcement. Law enforcement is already using drones in situations like patrolling borders and conducting searches for missing children or fleeing suspects. The potential to use drones for crime prevention, covert surveillance, and information gathering in dangerous situations is being explored on a regular basis.
Precise mapping and guidance of these types of drones will certainly enhance their usefulness to law enforcement.
Sports Technology. Want to film the intricacies of the game in 3D? Immersive virtual reality and filming with drones are two of several emerging technology trends in sports. The possibilities already being explored by soccer, NASCAR, and other sports. Drones are an ideal platform for these cameras, and as they become more advanced and battery lives get longer, applications will be broadened.
Already cycling races like the Tour de France and Rally Car races covet the ability of drones to follow racers, film, and provide support teams with exact location data in case of problems.
Filming. The recent documentary Destination Idaho showcased the work of several drone videographers in several remote areas of the state where conventional videography would have been prohibitively expensive, requiring a helicopter crew. Some of the aerial shots in the film would have been impossible without the use of drones.
This capability for photography and videography adds to high definition mapping capability including 3D modeling,
Image courtesy Yamaha Motor Co.
Agriculture. Why are there so many drones per capita in Washington and Idaho? Agricultural applications, from inspecting fences to crop dusting provide farmers with more cost effective ways to manage their crops.
While this has been happening in Japan for some time, Yamaha is bringing their crop dusting drones to the United States, starting in Napa vineyards.
Delivery. While Amazon may be a couple of years away from their proposed drone delivery program, other retailers have stepped up, and may have drones in the sky sooner rather than later.
Of course it is rumored that Amazon is waiting to see what new FAA regulations might come out, as anyone who deploys before they are set will have to backpedal and adjust.
Cost effectiveness is one of the big advantages of drones, but it is certainly not the only one.
- Drones have less impact on the environment. Most have electric motors powered by rechargeable batteries rather than gas.
- Drones are accessible to more people. You don’t need a pilot’s license yet, although you might need some training at some point according to the FAA. Even if certification becomes necessary it will certainly be less extensive than that required for other aircraft.
- Drones can provide safety. Unmanned vehicles can perform tasks with less risk than humans, reducing exposure to harsh environments, chemicals, or other dangers.
Like any other advancement though, the story of drones is not an entirely happy one.
Uncertain Regulations. The FAA has yet to determine the full extent of rules regarding drones, and new rules are sure to follow as the small aircraft become more common.
Privacy Issues. What if a drone records faces or certain activities with its camera. Whose property is that footage, and how much obligation is there to get permission to use it? Another issue is facial recognition and the possibility of identity theft. Where footage is stored depending on what it contains may be the next thing that needs to be regulated.
Amatuer Pilots. As drones become more popular and almost anyone can obtain and operate one, crashes may become more common, whether that is between aircraft, or drones crashing into objects, power lines, or falling from the sky for other reasons.
The FAA does have rules about safety and where drones can be operated, but it is certain there are those who will not follow those rules.
Tracking. Mapping who owns drones for what purpose is relatively easy. Tracking them in the sky is a little harder, although a technology called Gecko, already in use in army vehicles, is being deployed by Thales in civilian applications. It uses Squire radars and long range infrared cameras to detect the small aircraft.
Illegal activity. Just as law enforcement can use drones, so can criminals. There have already been instances of criminals using drones to case locations before burglaries, and even provide them with aerial surveillance while committing crimes.
“We have to both understand and appreciate the fact that criminals and terrorists are often early adopters of technology, and the latest global trends in robotics have not been lost on them,” Says Marc Goodman of the Future Crimes Institute in a TED article titled “A View from the Unfriendly Skies.” “In other words, sadly, criminals and terrorists can fly drones too.”
“Innovation cannot be stopped, and that means the drones are coming,” Goodman also says. There are undoubtedly many more positive uses than those listed here, and many negative ones as well.
For GIS Users, using drones for high definition mapping and photography, tracking where and how they are used, and even tracking flights and activity will be an integral part of what we do. Good, bad, and ugly, the where of drones is sure to be a significant discussion that has only just begun.
Troy Lambert is a freelance writer, editor, and non-profit consultant by day, and a suspense thriller author by night. He learned about the power of GIS while working as a researcher at a museum, and is always looking for ways to apply this technology and big data in new and innovative ways. Troy is an avid cyclist, skier, and hiker. He lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho. His work can be found at troylambertwrites.com, and you can connect with him on Twitter @tlambertwrites.