Drones will become as commonplace as laptop computers, a futurist predicts.
Numbers of registered users of drones have reached more than half a million in the United States and the trend points upward to higher numbers on the horizon, experts say.
Now, it’s no longer how to integrate drones into the national airspace with manned aircraft, but how to integrate manned airspace around drones, said Ronald F. Storm, chief scientist of advanced technology at the Perduco Group in Beavercreek.
“A lot of homes now have unmanned aerial vehicles or drones,” he said. “More houses will get them and as the national airspace opens up the cost to buy them … (and) use them reduces, everyone will own these and use them every day.”
The futurist was among experts speaking to nearly 400 attendees from 24 states and three countries at the Unmanned Aerial Systems Midwest conference launched Tuesday at the Dayton Convention Center.
The cost of owning a drone has plummeted in recent years — a sign history is repeating a trend much like the revolution in personal computing, Storm said. The advancement of technology brought computer miniaturization and the invention of smart phones and tablets.
What cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars has dropped to thousands or hundreds of dollars, putting drones within the grasp of recreational users and individual entrepreneurs, he said.
“The price of admission has changed,” Storm said. “That’s really the big thing.”
Along with lower costs, the Federal Aviation Administration has expanded rules to allow businesses to fly small drones and will drop a requirement later this month that commercial drone operators must be a licensed pilot.
The widespread use of drones has heightened concerns toward public safety both in the air and on the ground.
The rapid proliferation of drones prompted the FAA to require owners to register. The federal agency has imposed rules to restrict small drones within 400 feet of the ground within view of the operator and at least fives miles from airports.
Marke Gibson, FAA senior advisor on drone integration, said the rapid expansion of drones in the skies represented “the most fundamental change to aviation in our lifetime.”
Even so, more drones bring heightened public safety concerns. The FAA has taken “reasonable” and “appropriate steps” to ensure safety while balancing industry and users demands, he said.
“At some point, it’s not just the FAA, but we as a nation have to decide what’s the tipping point,” he said in an interview Tuesday at the conference. “We always go for safe operations, but perfectly safe would be ground everything, So there’s always going to be some level of risk. We try to minimize it while permitting the growth of this industry and all that it brings.”
Proponents say drones have spotted landmines to the spread of wildfires; inspected remote power lines and pipelines; and aided SWAT teams surveillance methods. More and more uses will create new businesses just as the explosion of the internet in recent years, they say.