Drones are constantly making the headlines. Rescues, stunning footage and racing are only a few of the myriad of uses we hear about these devices. Their increasing popularity is skyrocketing and their widespread use has convinced Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to assemble a task force to regulate them. In the light of recent instances where drones went too close to restricted flying areas and interfered with attempts to extinguish fires, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Transportation Department announced that their owners will have to register these unmanned aircrafts or face penalties.
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While we tend to consider a future where drones are part of our daily lives like a scene from a sci-fi movie, this regulation makes us aware of the fact that these devices are already an integral part of today's technological evolution. Before 2009, drones were not under the spotlight, but their popularity started increasing exponentially around 2011-2012 due to the employment of unmanned aerial vehicles for combat.
So where do we stand today when it comes to drone technology? The implications of using such devices vary greatly as they are employed for useful tasks, as well as illegal ones. On July 29, a drone dropped a package containing drugs into a prison, causing a fight to break out between the inmates and forced the guards to contain the situation by pepper spraying them.
Another debate surrounding the use of drones was sparked when North Dakota police started equipping drones with weapons such as Tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas and sound cannons. While these weapons are typically non-lethal, the danger associated with their use remains and there have been a few rare instances where they caused death. Additionally, operating the devices remotely raises concern over the difficulty of limiting police abuse.
And even bigger controversy was the case of a homemade drone with a shotgun strapped to it. A video of the device surfaced on the Internet a while ago, making many worry about the potential use of such devices.
All these cases contributed to the necessity for some sort of regulation around their use, and, when laws don't cut it, the creation of counter-drone technology. A company developed an anti-drone rifle that can take down a UAV with a blast of radio waves. According to Engadget, the weapon weighs around 10 pounds and can reach a drone at a distance of 400 meters. The blast of electromagnetic energy it emits when the trigger is pulled disables the drone and cuts any connection from the original pilot, allowing the user to lead it down to the ground safely.
On one hand, drones are setting off many warning alarms. On the other, they are also used for incredible feats that can benefit humanity. Besides the much debated drone delivery, which can cut down logistics time and increase access to remote areas but is still conflicting with the laws, there have been many attempts to put drones to use for a good cause. A team created a massive drone that can lift as much as 361 pounds, paving the way for drones as personal transportation.
Similarly, drones are used in research for facilitating rescue missions in dangerous areas. One example is a collaborative navigation system that uses a drone to scout an area before a robot can navigate through it by using the transmitted data. Another example is this team of drones that creates a bridge that can hold a human being:
There is still much confusion about these devices, which are not inherently good or bad. While their use and applications can greatly vary depending on how we use them, they are already very central to the current technological developments and shall not be considered as a far-away reality. Countries are still trying to understand the best way to let this technology evolve while regulating its misuse, but the day where drones become mainstream is not as far as you may think.
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