Non-military uses of drones get some attention

Most media coverage of drones to date has been related to their military applications, both because of the inherent controversy and because the military is far and away the biggest user of the technology.

That’s not going to change anytime soon. President Obama gave a counterterrorism speech yesterday addressing drone policy that will be dissected at least until the next election, and the military will continue to spend billions to increase its inventory of drones in the coming years.

However, civilian uses of drones — or, more properly, unmanned aerial vehicles — are on the horizon. Thanks to a 2012 mandate to the Federal Aviation Administration, UAVs will be integrated into the nation’s airspace by 2015. That should lead to an explosion of the technology in ways we haven’t yet seen, though a few recent news pieces offer previews.

Earlier this week, Wired ran an interview with Jonathan Downey, CEO of commercial drone company Airware, titled “Beyond Surveillance: Envisioning the Future Drone Workforce.” In it, Downey discusses uses for drones as varied as precision agriculture, cargo delivery and distribution of vaccines in rural Africa.

The same day, WBUR ran a piece on the explosion of robotics companies in greater Boston that highlighted a variety of non-military uses for drones. Reporter Anthony Brooks spoke to Danvers, Mass.-based CyPhy Works about its drones, which are designed for tasks like inspecting buildings and bridges in place of humans hanging from ropes. Brooks also interviewed Michael Moyer, editor in charge of technology coverage for Scientific American, who said uses for drones are “really almost up to the imagination.”

Both pieces are worth checking out, as is coverage of last weekend’s Maker Faire, where Chris Anderson of DIY Drones gave a presentation titled “Farm Drones: Feed the World, Save the Environment, Try Very Hard Not to Become Self-Aware.”

Military drones are going to continue to receive most of the press for the foreseeable future, but as we move closer to 2015, there will be an increasing number of articles like these that elucidate the broader nature of what a drone can be.

[ photo courtesy of CyPhy Works ]