Drone has recently become a part of our day-to-day vocabulary and is no longer a term only used by those who appreciate science fiction books or movies. Even though the idea of an unmanned flying vehicle still seems quite out there to a lot of people, this field is only in its infancy and it's a pretty safe bet that there will be a lot of improvements in the next few years. This is why, I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the future possibilities for flying drones.
Before we talk about the future, let's first focus on the here and now as there are still many who don't know the difference between a flying drone and a remote controlled airplane or helicopter. Besides the obvious dissimilarity in look, in the vast majority of cases, drones are better at flying than both RC airplanes and helicopters. The biggest difference between them is that while the traditional remote controlled aircraft require constant inputs from a human, drones are also capable of flying autonomously. Lastly, drones can have various specialties; besides the traditional image capturing or delivery purposes there are other more interesting capabilities such as miniature-sized UAVs helping bee colonies survive and various agronomic purposes.
If we're talking about the near future, one of the things most likely to be developed first for flying drones will be autonomous mapping systems that don't rely on GPS satellites. This will allow drones to navigate by themselves through buildings, forests or other terrains with various obstacles being helpful in every field that they're used in and most importantly in the military sector where all the big budgets are.
In a more distant future, one of the most interesting things for the regular consumer will be drones that can an also drive. Scientists have been working on flying cars concepts like the Dolorean from the Back to the Future movie for decades now, without being able to find a human-controllable or even cost-friendly solution, but looking at the problem the other way around could bring the solution. Drones already fly and are pretty affordable, so creating bigger ones that can also drive on roads seems like a goal that's easier to achieve. As far as I know, Dubai is already working on implementing a passenger-carrying drone for a pilot-less taxi system, which means that the technology itself is pretty advanced.
Additionally, as the technology advances, we could use drones for a wide array of more complex purposes such as search and rescue missions in areas that have been affected by a massive catastrophe such as earthquakes, tornadoes or tsunamis, detecting leaks in oil pipelines or even studying various wildlife that is otherwise unreachable or shines away from human presence.
However, one of the things that we should always keep in mind when we talk about the future of flying drones is that it will be influenced by regulations just as much as it is influenced by technology advancements. On the plus side, flying drones will very likely become a booming industry (if they aren't already), so most countries are working hard on creating drone-friendly regulations in order to attract start-ups and big companies. On the other hand, most people are reluctant in accepting new technology and unfortunately, they are also pretty vocal about it, which my influence the way politicians choose to regulate the flying drones sector.
Hopefully, there won't be too many accidents caused by flying drones as that could really hinder their development. If the public outcry was so great when that Uber self-driving car from Arizona was involved in a crash which resulted in a fatality, even though from the video it seems like the accident was completely unavoidable by a human driver, I don't even want to think about what will happen if flying drones start getting involved in crashes with severe human injuries.
Finally, the upcoming 5G technology will also drastically influence the future development of flying drones as being able to wirelessly transfer data between 100 and 1000 times faster than we currently can will surely enable scientists and engineers to find new and better purposes for UAVs.