New Scientist – The US Congress has charged the Federal Aviation Administration with opening airspace to UAVs by the end of 2015. Personal drones will be given a boost in the next year, when the FAA is due to pass a rule that will allow bigger UAVs, weighing up to 25 kilograms, to fly. It’s a good start, says Jerry LeMieux, founder of the web-based Unmanned Vehicle University, which trains UAV pilots and engineers. The market for small drones will expand fastest, he says, with the new rules enabling all kinds of commercial applications such as aerial photography. “My prediction,” he says, “is that the UAV industry will grow to a trillion dollar business over the next 20 years.”
By law, in the US, Europe and Australia, drones can only fly up to an altitude of 120 metres or so, away from buildings and people, and within line of sight of their operators. It’s a highly restrictive scenario, but there is growing pressure for the rules to change. Demand is rising for UAVs to be deployed in search-and-rescue operations, for monitoring crowds at sporting events and for traffic surveillance.
Many of the software algorithms that control these advanced drones are openly available so hobbyists can use and, in some cases, improve them. “The best open source UAVs are now near feature parity with military UAVs,” says Chris Anderson, who runs two companies that help amateurs access the latest in drone technology. One of these firms, DIY Drones, specialises in open source aircraft – the most famous of which is the Arducopter, built around the Arduino processor beloved by thousands of geeks. Hobbyist drones are not quite as sophisticated or tough as military UAVs, of course – but then they cost one-hundredth as much.
The personal drone revolution, however, has ridden in on the wings of consumer technology such as cellphones and gaming controllers. Smartphones have been particularly important: their small, efficient batteries, vibrating motors, accelerometers, GPS receivers, gyros and cheap memory chips have all become part of the drone make-up New Applications Pirate Bay has suggested putting servers kilometres up in the air, hovering outside any national jurisdiction. It’s already possible to turn a drone into an airborne cellphone mast. Matternet, a start-up based in Palo Alto, California, wants to create a drone-based service delivering vaccines, antibiotics and other medicines to remote parts of Africa or Asia, bypassing the poor or non-existent road network in these areas. There are a host of commercial and other applications. House sellers could soon include aerial shots of their property as standard. Hollywood directors might no longer have to fork out to rent a helicopter for a bird’s eye view of a car chase; instead, they could use footage captured by camera-packing quadcopters. Fire services will be able to scour the interiors of potentially hazardous burned-out buildings without sending crew in, and steeplejacks will inspect chimneys without erecting a scaffold. Environmental campaigners will be able to find out exactly what industrial complexes are emitting into the air right above them.
Source – New Scientist