Do you remember the days before everyone had a cell phone? Before everyone had an Internet connection? Can you imagine what it would have been like to get in on the ground floor of those technologies as an investor? As I mentioned before, last year alone saw investments in drone technology more than double, and right now several relevant factors are converging to launch a boom in UAV development and deployment.
The first is the wide range of projects already underway and just waiting for a chance to show how they can improve our lives in fields as diverse as geological exploration, environmental science, property and casualty insurance, public health and safety, and logistics.
Second, Jeff Bezos’ interest in drone technology marked a shift in industry thinking, particularly because Amazon is in a position to make very lucrative offers to startups with potential, which makes even smaller operations extremely attractive to investors. And though you might associate today’s functioning UAV programs more with military applications, the biggest suppliers are in fact private sector companies like General Atomics and Northrop Grumman.
Third, the technology required to build viable advanced UAV’s is rapidly becoming accessible to companies of all sizes as materials get lighter and stronger, engines get smaller and more efficient, sensor arrays deliver increased range and resolution, and the computing power to make it all work together fits onto cheaper, faster chips — or even into your smartphone.
None of this matters, however, if drones can’t fly or fly safely. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently working on regulations to keep U.S. airspace safe and smoothly operating. The agency recently announced proposed rules for commercial drone flights that it claims will create “probably the most flexible regime anywhere in the world” for drones 55 pounds and under. In the meantime, it continues to issue flight permits on a case-by-case basis. Groups like the Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Coalition and Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) represent developers and investors in Washington and around the world, lobbying for timely implementation of regulations that will provide opportunities for commercial applications of all kinds. Until suitable regulations can be implemented in the U.S., there are still plenty of opportunities in countries which are less strictly regulated, or which have made more progress in developing regulations.All in all, the wheels are in motion and the question is no longer whether UAV’s are going to reshape our world, but when,where and how – and who is going to be in on the action.