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News & Views

The future of drones

drone in action

In 30 years, drones will be autonomous, tiny and astonishingly cheap, with the ability to do the jobs of bees, watch over your children as they walk to school and monitor and repair our bodies from within.

That’s the view of entrepreneur Peter Diamandis who, writing on his Singularity Hub site, predicts that drones are about to go disruptive and envisages a billion-fold increase in their power and sophistication in the coming 30 years.

Building on the innovations of the past three decades such as GPS, IMUs and digital cameras, Diamandis expects that tomorrow’s drones will have a mind of their own and will be small enough – and cheap enough – to operate in swarms.

What will they do? All sorts, from industrial pollination – as Diamandis points out, Harvard is already on the case with this one – to sports photography to all sorts of surveillance. Here’s his list in edited form:

  1. Pollination – ‘Imagine bee-sized drones pollinating flowers’
  2. Personal security – ‘In the future, your children will have a flotilla of micro-drones following them to school and to playgrounds at all times, scanning for danger’
  3. Action sports photography
  4. Asteroid prospecting and planetary science – Diamandis’s company Planetary Resources is at work on a space drone
  5. Medical in-body drones – ‘On the microscopic scale, each of us will have robotic drones traveling through our bodies monitoring and repairing’
  6. High Altitude ‘Atmospheric Satellite’ Drones
  7. Ubiquitous surveillance – ‘Combined with facial recognition software and high-resolution cameras, drones will know where everybody and everything is at all times.’
  8. Military and Anti-terrorism

That’s to add to today’s increasing range of drone applications, which mainly extend to specialist varieties of aerial monitoring.

Aside from the obvious technological details, there are, needless to say, plenty of obstacles before drones can get started on these jobs.

‘We’ll have to address many sociopolitical challenges before drones become disruptive,’ writes Diamandis. ‘There are concerns over privacy and spying, interference with planes/helicopters, drones aiding illegal activities, safety and potential crashes, noise and cluttering the skies, theft and commercial use.’

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