After The Age Of The PC, Welcome To The Age Of The PD — The 'Personal Drone'

from the promising-start dept

Techdirt has been following the rise of small, low-cost drones for some years. A major milestone was the release of the FAA’s draft rules for the devices, which came out last February. Quartz has just published an interesting report of an FAA conference on the future uses of drones in US airspace, at which the following statistic was quoted:

Federal Aviation Administration director Michael Huerta told the gathered crowd that more than consumer 500,000 drones had been registered with the agency since December.

Quartz provides some context for the figure of half-a-million newly-registered drones:

According to the FAA, it took 100 years for about 320,000 regular aircraft to be registered with US officials — a feat that drones have surpassed in a matter of months. Granted, even the largest consumer drone is far smaller than the average plane, helicopter or hot-air balloon, but it’s an impressive statistic for an agency that has been criticized in the past for moving slowly on regulations that adapt to the growing uses for drones.

As that rightly notes, there’s a world of difference between today’s small drones — “consumer” in this context means anything weighing more than 0.5lbs — and traditional aircraft. But in many ways, it’s exactly the same difference between the very first PCs, and the mainframes and minicomputer systems that had existed for decades. In that respect, we can see the 500,000 registered drones as an indication that we are now truly in the age of the PD — the Personal Drone.

The conference also touched on a key concern raised by Karl Bode last year, who was worried that over-strict regulation of drones might kill off some promising new business models. Quartz reports:

Speakers discussed the potential for drone operations beyond the line of sight in the future. And the FAA is already testing out the feasibility of delivery services like this. Last month it approved a test by the drone delivery service Flirtey and 7-Eleven to deliver some snacks to a household in Arizona.

Combined with the sizable installed base of personal drones just revealed, that’s a good sign for the future of the sector if it is to continue tracking the PC industry in terms of rapid growth.

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Comments on “After The Age Of The PC, Welcome To The Age Of The PD — The 'Personal Drone'”

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Whatever says:

Three words for you: Citizen Band Radio.

When I was a kid, it seems like everyone had one, in the car, at home, antennas popping off of balconies, roof tops, everyone walking around talking like truckers… it was awesome! At peak, the FCC was receiving 1 million license applications PER MONTH.

Now, look around, and see how many CB radios there are. Outside of an 18 wheeler, you are about as likely to find an 8 track player.

Rapid growth often means a very quick fall as well. Once people get over the initial burst of the new thing (like drones) they will dump them for the next insta-fad, like say pokemon.

Whatever says:

Re: Re: Re:

Good try, but you fail. See, the internet isn’t a single thing. You would have been better saying “Myspace, just a passing fad” because then you would have proved the point.

Personal drones are for the most part an end point technology, something that is cool as hell but in the end not particularly practical for most of us. There will still be many people in the future using them for things (like shooting video from the air), but as a toy / fed they appear to have about the same shelf life as many others that have gone before them.

Confusing industrial use (delivery) with personal use (flying around the park) can also confuse your view on their future. Amazon may find a good use for them, but the toy fad is likely just that.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You could say that the CB radio was undone by lacking the luster of the “initial burst of the new thing”, or you could say that it was undone by improvements in technology that rendered it pretty much obsolete.

Just about the time when the CB radio craze seemed to disappear, people started carrying around telephones in their pocket. These two things may, just possibly, be related.

Whatever says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, there was a pretty big gap between those two points. CB radio died pretty much all by itself, collapsing in on itself for a bunch of reasons, but a few are key:

When you are putting 1 million new people into something a month, your “new” pool tends to dry up really fast. It didn’t take long for everyone who had even a passing interest to get involved, get bored, and leave. With a limited number of channels, the usefulness of a CB radio pretty much diminished to nil as quickly as it went up.

CB radio also faced a major technical issue, which was “skip” and sun spot interference. AM transmissions, even from a small 4 watt transmitter, can travel insane distances in this particular band. The signals bounce off the atmosphere when charged by sunlight, and this allows for very long distance communications. It also raises the noise level of junk signals to a point where during the day, CB radio was useless for communications of more than about a mile.

Relaxed and easier amateur radio licensing in many places also absorbed many of the more serious technical types, who moved away from the crowded and often profane “chicken band” and went “pro” on the 2 meter band.

There was roughly a 10 year gap between the effective end of CB as a fad and the start of meaningful cellular service. One did not kill the other.

Sadalbari says:

BLOS Beyond Line Of Sight

Speakers discussed the potential for drone operations beyond the line of sight in the future. And the FAA is already testing out the feasibility of delivery services like this. Last month it approved a test by the drone delivery service Flirtey and 7-Eleven to deliver some snacks to a household in Arizona.

Oh, great. Make BLOS operation illegal for individuals but legalize it for corporations. More special corporate privileges. Yay.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is drone-based delivery sustainable?

There is a more significant traffic control problem, the same one that make flying cars unlikely. Aerial vehicles require wide separation between vehicles, and have little tolerance for congestion, like queuing up to use the same delivery location. Who would supply the traffic to control to schedule deliveries to avoid queuing?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is drone-based delivery sustainable?

For delivering a few pounds to a single consumer, much more effficient (say, a pizza delivery which can’t fill a full size truck). But if you start using them for delivering packages in town, a full UPS truck is probably more energy efficient. But then again, drones are easier to run on electricity, but I am not sure if that will be the case for commersial drone delivery. Range is limited, so combustion engines are likely to permit long deliveries and/or all day operation without having a large battery bank on site. If that is the case, trucks win. Small engines are horribly inefficient. I could be wrong, I am not 100% sure how expensive the battery bank would be. Combustion engines are expensive and require regular maintenance. It is possible engine maintenance eat up savings from not having dozens of batteries laying around

I could see a hybrid being efficient. A truck driving the bulk of the distance as a form of mother ship, and releasing drones to deliver the last mile. Should significantly reduce detours and keep drone flight hour low.

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