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The Future of DronesThe Future of Drones

We're channeling Orson Welles in July's edition of Ask Jim.

Question: How long do you think drones will last and how big will they be in 20 years? Thanks, Adras


Jim: Adras – Thank you for writing in and allowing me to have a brief Orson Welles moment, and what an exciting topic!

I’ve heard many state that the drone industry is truly in its infancy – similar to how the internet was in the early 1990’s (remember dial up internet access!). But if we review the natural progression of unmanned vehicles, specifically aerial vehicles…look at what we’ve seen in just the past 2-3 years. On a pure consumer level, they can fly for over ½ an hour, carry decent sized payloads, take incredible photography, and if we’re honest with ourselves, many fly without much help from us.

I think what we’ll see in the next 20 years, in the U.S. at least, will be highly dependent on when the direct line of sight restriction is eased.  When lessened, I think we will see an immediate explosion in the industry! We’ll see drones flying in front of trains - looking for issues in railroad tracks, spraying crops, flying pipeline, used in swarms for search/rescue, and even walking our dogs. But those are easy ones.   Add another several years of safety and further integration into the air space, and we could see drones flying around the city for instant traffic and news updates – yes, very similar to a famous scene in Back to the Future, Part II. It won’t be uncommon to hear, “What, a huge news story unfolding now…okay, the drone will be there in 2 minutes.”  

Then, as technology and safety further improve, drones could perhaps become “manned,” in that they are used for ambulance or taxi services. Pull out your phone and simply use an app to call a drone. Hop in, tell it where to go, then enjoy the view as it takes you to your location. I know I’d be on board – just maybe not on the first one, or two! We know that a certain online retailer is already using drones to deliver packages in Europe – it’s just a matter of time before passengers become the cargo. 

Jim Pinegar

Jim Pinegar

Vice President & Director of Operations of AOPA Insurance Services

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