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Question of the week

Last week I attended AUVSI 2015, where I (someone who works for a drone company) was stunned by the amount and quality of autonomy on display. And it’s not theoretical or conceptual anymore, though there was also plenty of that to be had — no, it’s simply taken for granted that drones and robots are doing real work. This feeling was reinforced by the FAA’s announcement — at AUVSI — that it would partner with companies to explore beyond visual line of sight flight capability, and also by the approval of Amazon’s patent for aerial delivery.

In the coming decade drones will catalyze enormous changes in our transportation, inspection, survey, delivery and information gathering sectors. And jobs will disappear. Robots are that efficient, that reliable and that good; the profit motive is too much. Even more traditionally white-collar jobs, like journalism, are transforming under the pressure. But jobs, and profits, will also be created — manufacturing, engineering, applications, software development, and untold entrepreneurial opportunity in each of those sectors mentioned above.

This will be the reality. Many groups will resist automation — the Air Line Pilots Association regularly appears as a dissenting party on FAA fora and in Section 333 exemptions, for instance — but I don’t think these robots, unlike your old Steve the Butler, are destined for the attic. What I’d like to know is, how do you feel about this coming reality? Will drones affect the way that you or people you know work?

Leave your comments below, and let’s talk about it.

And now, the links that matter:


AUVSI 2015 was held in Atlanta last week and we were there. Here’s the full 3DR Report, including peeks at some cool tech from SenseFly, Airware and Panoptes, as well as a bad picture of the new Solo Backpack.

European startup Sky-Futures receives $3.8M to step up oil and gas inspection. This is apparently Europe’s largest drone investment yet. The company also has an office in Houston, where it serves clients in the Gulf of Mexico, having been one of the first companies to receive FAA regulatory approval to operate in the US. (TechCrunch)

At an AUVSI press conference the FAA launched their “Pathfinder” program to test drones flying beyond visual line of sight. They chose CNN (news gathering), Precision Hawk (agriculture) and BNSF Railway (industrial inspection) as partners in the exploratory program. The program is nominally open for new partners, but right now the path to partnership with the FAA here is unclear. (Washington Post)

In a second AUVSI press conference the FAA also announced B4UFLY, a smartphone app that informs drone users of any regulations or requirements that limit or prohibit flying, based on their location. (FAA)


At Forbes, Gregory McNeal — perhaps feeling a bit jilted by B4UFLY, which is in direct competition with his own recently announced app, AirMap — offers three sharp criticisms of the Pathfinder program.

This week marks the launch of the first Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes — the question mark is in the name), which stars drones and robots instead of models. Drones will carry outfits out over the runway, like flying coat hangers. Check the link for a video. Here’s GQ’s take: “Seriously, tech bros. Stay in your lane, we’ll stay in ours.” (Business Insider)

In this short essay, The Verge argues that tourist drones are more annoying than selfie sticks.

Tech News

A recently approved patent filed by Amazon offers details about their drone delivery service. Most notably, they intend to deliver not to your street address, but to your exact location as given by your smartphone’s GPS. The drones will also communicate with each other, sharing information about traffic and weather conditions.

3D printing can make drones that are faster and lighter. Boeing is currently working with the University of Sheffield to develop complex UAVs more cheaply by using 3D printing. They’ve succeeded in using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), a type of 3D printing technology, to print out all the components needed in a drone, including the catapult rig used to launch it into the air. (International Business Times)


Here’s a haunting compilation of ghost-town drone tours from around the world: Auschwitz, Chernobyl and Detroit. (World Mic)

And to end with the token general interest piece: A cheeky video from the Humane Society featuring puppy delivery by drone: “A puppy is not a product.” Instead, they advocate rescue of an abandoned old friend — oh Steve the Butler, we hardly knew ye…