Sensitive issues such as government surveillance and protection of privacy notwithstanding, we are beginning to find more and more uses – some rather surprising – for drones. Will these unmanned machines be as commonplace as automobiles are today or are drones just not something that can integrate into our daily lives?

More than surveillance
10 major US media outlets are about to test drones for news gathering. These include The New York Times, the Associated Press, and NBCUniversal. Similarly, the FAA has granted exemptions in commercial use for architecture, mapping, forestry, and rescue and salvage operations, while a sizeable number are already being used for recreation. Drones might become very common sooner than we think.

One of the more recent applications of drone technology is in product delivery. Following the footsteps of Amazon’s drone stunt in 2013, Asia’s e-commerce giant Alibaba just launched its own bid to be drone savvy with a one-off trial: it had drones deliver 450 packets of ginger tea in China’s biggest cities within one hour of customers’ online orders. As a PR stunt, it was quite successful.

One notable project that implements a different kind of delivery by drone is from BioCarbon Engineering. This Oxford-based team is developing a system that involves using drones to plant trees on an industrial scale. Their goal is to plant a billion trees a year. Very exciting!

Game changer
Drone technology is indeed showing promise for commercial and civil use, and governments are finally recognizing it. IFSEC has recently predicted that drones will soon be used for law enforcement, and it won’t be surprising for private security firms to follow suit.



Amidst the good publicity that drones are getting, some thought leaders are wary of the advent of the new technology. It is suggested that the use and power that unmanned aerial vehicles provide is so seductive, it might reshape our daily lives in the same way it has changed the ethics of war, beyond the goal of gaining tactical advantage.

Are we ready for it?
The image of the drone as a weapon will always be etched in our common consciousness for years to come, but the more drone technology is used and developed for humanitarian purposes, the better we will all be.

31 Comments
  1. Awesome! I had no idea drones could be used to deliver small parcels! I wonder what it was like for those Chinese residents to get their tea from a drone? Must be so cool! It’s amazing what we are already doing with this new technology, it will be interesting how they can use this to start gathering news πŸ™‚ I believe the drone technology has a lot potential.

  2. I love looking at your standard drone YouTube recordings of cities, vistas and the like. But I have wondered for some time what the implications will be for security and general surveillance. No doubt legislation will be brought out to provide guidelines. But technology will probably still be a step ahead for a while.

  3. There are clearly positive and negative effects and uses for drones. The negative is, like you stated, that some may be uncomfortable with government surveillance. However, drones can deliver medicine to hard to reach places in a short amount of time.

  4. Drones have been all over the news just recently – sparking concerns about their use in espionage and drug trafficking. Hopefully, these concerns won’t deter people from making the most of thier capabilities.

  5. Drones were actually a big news story today. There were several spotted over the last few days flying over sites in Paris, France such as the Eiffel Tower and the U.S. Embassy. It’s supposedly not seen as a threat at this time. It’s still pretty scary that anyone can fly these basically anywhere, at anytime, without any regulation. Who knows what they were doing. While the technology is definitely quite amazing the personal security aspects of it come in to question.

  6. Recently a couple of of al Jazeera reporters and journalists were arrested in Paris for flying their drones. It’s safe to say that common people and the government are apprehensive and cautious about this new technology at best. Nobody is denying their potential multitude of uses as most people are aware of them.

  7. Honestly, after the South Park episode about drones, it was only a matter of time :)) Seriously though, that’s seriously cool that they’re becoming more accessible to the public. I think they can have a lot of positive uses rather than just for surveillance and other questionable things

  8. We wouldn’t even have drones if their military potential wasn’t so appealing. Their primary role is definitely military, and they’ll likely be used by terrorists more and more (as we’ve seen in a recent match between Serbia and Albania, where Albanians flew a drone into the stadium with a Nazi flag of Greater Albania). We can daydream that they’ll be used for good purposes but the reality is, unfortunately, quite different.

    • Drones are unnecessary in regular everyday life. Didn’t a drone almost cause a plane to crash a few months ago? These things should be used for military purposes only. he E-Bay is coming out with one for home delivery, imagine that. I guess his really is the space age.

      • Well I guess we can expect that shooting drones will become a new national past time? It get’s even better if they’re carrying stuff from ebay, free presents. Joke aside drones have and will change the way war is waged.

  9. The thing is, how can you differentiate a military/survelliance drone from an innocuous one? As long as there is no straightforward way to do so there will always be resistance against drones due to how easily they can invade one’s privacy, and how easily they can be weaponized for devious means.

  10. I wonder what this means for the rest of the worlds fleet of vehicles? Will cars be next? Google’s been working on their Car AI for a while now and last I checked it was quite impressive. I would love to live in a world with no car crash fatalities from a completely automated transit system.

  11. To me it seems that drones will go the way of firearms. What I mean by that is this.

    As more and more people see the potential for abuse, the more and more there will be regulations and laws to counter them. Drones (unless massive EMP) Are here to stay and we all have to adjust to an ever changing world..

    Me personally I cannot wait till I’m sitting on my balcony and have a friendly neighborhood drone bring me a six pack.

    • That is a fantastic thought! We could just send a text and have the beer delivered to us within the hour. Love it!

  12. Drones have benefits and drawbacks like any new technology. There is always the concern of unwanted or illegal government surveillance, but there’s also the benefit of traffic analysis, and delivery of goods that are on a time sensitive schedule (maybe organs for transplant for example). Of course, there’s the benefit of photography and aerial shots of cities, as well as aerial videography. Aerial time lapses of cities could study traffic patterns and help city planners to rebuild roads or adding new road signs.

  13. As with anything there are always positives and negatives to be considered. In my opinion I think drones can be used for much more good than hurt. In the wrong hands drones will always be used for the negative. I love the story about the tea delivery. I have this image in my head of a drone stork delivering items to door steps. πŸ™‚

  14. I knew that these drones must be important when I read about companies delivering their goods using drones. Must be very, very important that drone is for business, I thought. But who would have thought that they had other usages for different purposes. I certainly did not. It’s good that drones would be used for security purposes.

  15. I think drones are a very good thing. Not only for security meassures, because they are unhuman aircrafts so no people risk their lifes, but also for market and mass media. Their fast, can get work done faster than people and you have absolute control over them. So in my opinion, drones are the way to go for the future!

  16. Drones have the potential to become something great. Just how fast the industry is growing absolutely amazes me. Imagine what we will be able to do with drones in the near future. I hope to be able to purchase a drone soon just to see what it can do. It is very cool how far our technology has come.

  17. I have seen one of these drones hovering around in a marathon event I participated in. It’s amazing! The organizers used it to take pictures of the runners from the sky.

    I was kind of worried at first because my imagination was going wild… as I picture it dropping some kind of bombs or assault strikes on the people below it. Too much sci-fi movies I guess…

    Anyway I’m sure there will be pros and cons but I hope the pros of these technology far outweighs any of the negatives.

  18. Drones are a nice idea but the technology for it needs to be improved. We may see a lot of them in the near future but right now we can manage without it.
    They’ll probably be used more by companies like eBay or Amazon to help with the delivery of packages.

  19. I think there’s going to be a long learning curve on the right regulatory framework before we are comfortable with allowing the widespread use of drones. Mistakes will be made and horror stories will be told (you might have come across all the recent hyperbole coming out of the press when a man accidentally flew a drone into the White House compound) but this has happened with every new technology we have embraced. It’s no reason to look back.

  20. I do agree, drones are a help to people nowadays. I have seen drones during big special occasions. We had this National Athletic Gathering last February and there are around 3-4 drones flying on the sky. 2 drones from the security office to maintain the safety of athletes and 1 drone for the media. So that means drones are not just security rather its for television also. Drones are helpful to this generation, keeping a safe and brighter place for this world.

  21. I don’t have any experience in this drones technologies, but this technology will sounds like the fundamental base for next generation unmanned automobile and transportation platform. We need to thank our researches for discovering fuelcell drones technologies and its transportation applications for emission free echo friendly human life on this earth.

  22. It is quite scary that our lives will soon be surrounded by AIs doing our jobs for us, delivering parcels, vacuuming the floor, it just seems very futuristic.

  23. I really dislike the term drone. It makes people think they are some death machines shooting people in the middle east. I prefer the term quadcopter or multicopter or UAV. Quadcopters and the likes are very dangerous and I do think that the ordinary guy flying a phantom over crowds doesn’t realize the destructive potential of the quad. Quads over a certain size should require a license.

  24. I have to laugh because this is beginning to sound like a science fiction movie! However, it sounds like a a reality in the very near future. I can’t imagine what it would be like. I think that these drones need to be restricted to certain areas. We cannot have them flying everywhere. It will seem like too much of a disturbance.

  25. Wow this is just absolutely amazing. I’m in love with drones, I myself own a small drone that has a camera which can take videos and you can fly it for quite a high altitude. I remember in Mechanical Engineering classes we learnt to program and build these robots that can fly and move in the air with a camera, it’s all programmable through a computer. I really love seeing drones and building them, it’s such a fascination for me and it motivates me to see people actually supporting such inventions. Drones can be used for really great purposes and I personally think in the future people will own one just as they would own a smartphone now these days.

  26. I don’t like the idea of having drones flying around. For one it invades privacy. It’s also very dangerous and have come close to planes just this year. These things should only be used in the military.

  27. Surveillance aside, there is one issue with drones a lot of people don’t consider, and that’s clashing with the FAA. There are some pretty intense restrictions on how, where, and when you can fly these things, and some are held to the same standards as full aircraft – remember we’re talking about handheld flying machines that you can build and/or keep in your garage.

    The remote control airplane hobbyists already had a tough time with some of this, but drones could cause regulatory changes that would affect them even more, and make it more difficult for drone pilots to get started or even own the drones in the first place.

  28. A year after this article being published, I can definitely say that drones are actually pretty common nowadays. I’m not really sure if they are being used as weapons, but those who I have seen are mostly used as toys, and some of them are used to take really good pictures of things that would be actually difficult to take pictures of, I think that is a really cool feature, and I’m looking forward to see what else can they do with drones technology.

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