An interesting list compiled this year by the American Institute of Aeronautics and and summarizing activity on the design and production of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles, contains 960 distinct aircraft being developed and produced by 270 companies in 57 countries. The corresponding figures two years ago were 675 aircraft. 226 companies, and 44 nations. There is clearly fast growth here. If you would like to scan the list, it is here. .
An article discussing the situation is in the July-august 2013 issue of Aerospace America, a publication of the AAIA, and the link is here.
There is obvious attraction to these machines for military purposes, in that they are relatively cheap, versatile (observation to weapon platform), and do not risk human crew members. They are also capable of maneuvers and missions that humans cannot, or would rather not do. Of course there is a great debate going on about their use, because they can, and have been used as assassination machines, and such things are controversial in military and government circles, especially if one is on the short list of potential victims.
But many spokespeople for UAVs predict that they will soon be more heavily used for non-military government and commercial purposes — enforcing the law, dealing with fires and natural disasters, and enforcing environmental rules, as well as learning more about transportation and people, advertising products, aiding contractors and landscapers in their search for work, and other such seemingly innocuous tasks. If they are right, I hope a lot of early thought goes into regulating the things.
A short-range low cost hobby drone can now be built for on the order of 1000 dollars, and a reasonably reliable one perhaps adaptable to commercial use for 10,000 dollars. Higher production and advanced technology will continue to reduce the cost of many components, although if UAV’s have commercial application, increased capability will offset this. And with the technology presently available, they will be noisy.
I see them from the bias of a person who grew up in an area with low population and generally hates the noise of such things as heavy traffic, construction noise, powered yard equipment in general and leaf blowers in particular. The latter are particularly interesting, because do we really need such things? My neighborhood is seldom without noise from them, and I did grow up thinking it was normal for trees to have leaves under them, and if not acceptable, there was always the rake. Stanford’s campus is rather remarkable, in that it has a large number of trees, but almost no leaves on the ground—and apparently few rakes. We (mostly my wife) are the only people in our area that do our own yard work, which is healthy outdoor exercise. To us it beats going to gyms, pedaling stationary bicycles, using weight machines, and inhaling other people’s sweat.
I cannot help thinking of UAV’s buzzing around helping issue speeding tickets (we have an okay balance now between police and speeders), checking to see if my yard is a fire hazard and whether I need a new roof, checking crowd size or composition, pulling banners advertising sales at the local car dealers, or just providing entertainment to people who want to check out the neighborhood or practice their hobby. I must admit I am influenced by the fact that Stanford’s medical center helicopter often flies over my house, private planes do their barely muffled thing, and we do live close to the landing patterns of at least two major airports (although the heavyweights do seem now to be quieter than the private planes). But my life would be more pleasant if early in the game, yard equipment had not been allowed to use two cycle engines, and better yet had been restricted to electrical power or manual labor. Hopefully we will think ahead more carefully on UAVs If we aren’t careful, we are going to annoyed by technology we don’t really need. Let's think seriously about what really need UAVs for?
But the good news is that we are still allowed to kill pests such as bedbugs, yellow jackets, mice, rats, moles, and gophers, Maybe we will be allowed to kill annoying UAVs. The problem is that unless they are incredibly miniaturized, their falling dead or dying bodies may hurt innocent people.