Today I was thinking about where the drone industry is based on my experience. To start I separated the different categories.
- Commercial – Enterprise operation requiring specific knowledge of an industries needs. This is not a ‘service industry’ yet. That is to say I believe uses will be identified internally within various enterprises by subject matter experts in those industries. Over time common needs will emerge and a service industry will emerge but for now there are too many variables for generic solutions.
- Commercial – General Public. To fly you in public for hire you need a Part 107 license. Here is where it is very early but there is potential for highly motivated individuals to purse small projects like real estate. You might think they would do well at recording events but flying over people isn’t allowed and drones are noisy.
- Commercial – Aerial Photography and Videography. Here is where there is real potential for services. Flying and shooting require experience and understanding but the hurdles are already known for the most part. Professional photographers have laid the foundation for how to offer services and film making is part of our culture. A good example is Washington State, where to fly a drone in a State park you need a permit, the same one used to shoot a film. The difference is that even recreational pilots need to file the form and follow the procedures, which include a detailed itinerary of when and where you will be flying. It is a lot of hoops to jump through but professionals shouldn’t have any real problems breaking new ground in drone usage.
- FPV and Racing – Here is an exciting and somewhat grey area that I believe will drive the industry much as the gaming market is driving the PC market to it’s limits graphically. Building your own drone and learning to fly First Person Video is a treat for most anyone that wants to or likes to fly. Racing is another matter, but on the same lines. If you get bored and have great eye-hand coordination and lightening fast reflexes racing could be your thing. My point is average individuals are designing their own crafts and putting themselves in them virtually. This is video gaming in reality! I imagined being able to do something like this in 1995 coining a term ‘Physical Reality’ to describe the combination of video gaming and moving objects in real time. This is where all the excitement will be, once it is legalized. Right now in the US flying FPV is not considered safe and therefore should not be done outdoors. These crafts are flying at 90+ MPH so most flying is done outside. Things are changing and pressure is building so it is only a matter of time until some sensible rules emerge. In the meantime, this is a great hobby to get in trouble with. I assume meets are flown under a Certificate of Waiver (COW) but haven’t checked into that yet but the COW doesn’t address how an individual can practice on their own time. From what I’ve seen people are either unaware of or simply not complying with the FAA rules. Things need to become easier and clearer still.
- Whoops – Here is where the fun begins! Small drones that have prop-guards. If it is less than 0.55lb (270g). Common sense still needs to rule. Just because there are no rules doesn’t mean you are not just as liable if you cause an incident. Unlike the larger craft you are not likely to fly a Whoop to 400 ft above the ground but that doesn’t mean you could not interfere with air traffic or be considered a national security risk. There may not be any FAA rules but you are still liable for any incidents you may cause. That said, much of your flying will be indoors where the FAA has no rules. Flying over people isn’t an issue because getting hit by one of these little units typically doesn’t hurt but still should be avoided. You can smack these into ceilings, walls, and objects and they simply spin to the ground or until you regain control. Add a camera and get some goggles and you can fly FPV.
There are many different ways to fly. Commercially include Agriculture, Construction, Insurance, Utilities, Engineering, Surveying, and many more. These are tasks that require an in-depth knowledge of how things are done in those specific industries. There will be many new tasks that can be accomplished that were not possible before but the first services will most likely be based on existing tasks, either making them more cost effective or safer.
Flying recreation-ally is more difficult than it should be at this time. There are many reasons, some good and some not so good. Mostly you should be aware that flying within the rules is much harder than you think.
The best of all worlds is the Whoops. They are cheap, durable, and versatile. These little birds can smack a wall at full speed, fall to the ground, and take off, again and again. Learning to fly? It is OK to crash! They are not indestructible but they are very close to it. Add a camera and go FPV. Make your home an obstacle course flying anytime of the day or night, rain or shine. Take it outdoors and without GPS as light as they are the wind makes flying more interesting. The absolute best place to fly outdoors is over an open bowl where you are have a reasonable altitude above the ground but the craft is flying around eye level to you. You can go both up and down with your maneuvers, it is much easier to track where your craft is, and recover from extreme attitudes is much easier because you can see more.