dwblog-drones and droids
Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…a….drone and it’s heading straight for you! If you have not had this experience as of yet, just wait, eventually you will.

Let’s talk about drones for a minute. I love the drones! Drones are cool. And they are becoming more and more mainstream. I was in the mall recently, and I saw a new BB-8 ground drone waiting for me to fork over US $150. I love the idea of a Sphero available to follow me around my condo, taking my commands via my iPhone.

This reminded me of the first drone I saw live and in the flesh—it was when somebody was showing off his drone at a “Blues on the Green” concert in Zilker Park right here in Austin. It is impressive, the kind of aerial photography that anyone with a drone can access. Never before could a common person have the type of unlimited videography opportunities that were once reserved for professional film crews. Right after getting over the fact that there was a drone at the concert, I saw Morley Safer from “60 Minutes” interviewing someone about drones right there in the very same park that same day!

Drones are everywhere these days. Just last year, there were drones galore at Austin’s “Fourth of July” fireworks celebration…I’m thinking a good 10-20 drones, and those were just the ones that I could see. And they were all flyin’ around, not a care in the world…so long as they weren’t crashing into another drone or dropping onto somebody’s head. (They didn’t.)

The drones were there, you see, to record video footage of the fireworks. And with all their pretty colors, the drones also enhanced our already luminescent fireworks experience.

Drones are uncharted territory. If you’re looking for some drone rules, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has offered up some “standing guidelines” but no directly enforceable laws (at least, not yet). But in November 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) did hold that drones are considered aircraft as defined under federal statutes and regulations and in accordance with FAR 91.13 (a longstanding FAA regulation). For now, it seems that laws surrounding drones are still…up in the air.

To help you navigate any ambiguity, here’s the bottom line of the FAA’s current “guidelines:”

  • Don’t fly above 400 feet AGL (Above Ground Level)
  • Don’t fly within 3 miles of an airport/landing strip
  • Keep your craft within line of sight
  • Don’t fly in NOAA zones and obey all Temporary Right Restrictions/Flight Restricted Zones
  • Fly safely (away from pedestrians, wildlife, buildings/property, etc.—use common sense)

Yeah, that whole common sense thing makes me laugh. You mean where 20-30 people unleash their drones over downtown Austin while they’re shooting off beaucoup fireworks?!

The growing presence of drones in everyday life is an example of their growing popularity as well as importance. If you’re trying to get your head around (or should that be, away from?) the drone market, the commercial drone market alone is expected to be worth US $4 billion by 2021, and growing at a CAGR of 109% between now and then, according to RNR Market Research.

That growth ranges from precision agriculture to mining, to infrastructure inspection to Hollywood. And all those drones are going to generate a whole bunch of new big (and IoT-oriented) data.

Don’t forget about the Droids

If I may segue from drones to droids for you “Star Wars” fans in the audience, you know that a new android was introduced in the latest installment of the epic series, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Its name was “BB-8 Droid,” and though it had some personality characteristics reminiscent of R2-D2, it did not talk. What it does do is roll around. Quite a bit.

It moves around so much, in fact, that IBM’s Joshua Carr recently cracked the code on manipulating the Sphero version of the BB-8 Droid with his mind (and with help from IBM Bluemix®) to try and keep BB-8 from free-ranging beyond Earth’s orbit. Check out the blog post here.

It will be interesting to see how our culture evolves to embrace robots from Roombas, drones, and AI.

And…it has to be said…may the drones and droids be with you.

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