Drones: some background

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. It flies by itself, and is controlled either autonomously or by remote control.

Any midair collision with an object is dangerous to aircraft, which is why Gatwick Airport had to be so careful when drones were spotted by the runway.

In 2009, a passenger jet hit a flock of Canada geese shortly after take off from LaGuardia airport. Both engines were destroyed and the jet ended up in the Hudson River.

Drone Revolution

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) predicts that 4.3 million hobby drones will be sold in 2020.

Right now you can buy a drone with a camera, 30 minutes of battery life, and a range of about four miles for about $1,000, making them a cheap alternative for endless applications (see a few below).


No matter how fast the market changes, Chinese company DJI makes better drones and sells more of them: 70 percent of the drone market is dominated by the Chinese company.

DJI is also the company that was recently accused of industrial espionage when its drones were used to record construction techniques in large west coast skyscrapers.


Drones can’t fly over most federal facilities, they can’t fly over people, they’re not allowed to be used at night or within five miles of an airport. They need to fly below 400 feet and at less than 100 miles per hour. Generally, they must weigh under 55 pounds and yield to manned aircraft.

Some states prohibit the use of drones in hunting. In California, drones cannot be used to record another person without getting consent. And drones must be kept in the operators’ sight at all times.



  • Pizza delivery in New Zealand
  • Medical drops in Rwanda
  • Package delivery

UPS has tested a drone that launches from the top of a package car, delivers a package to a home, and then returns to the car while the driver continues to the next stop.

Amazon Prime Air wants to use drones to bring packages to customers in less than 30 minutes. It demonstrated this at a conference this year.

Drones are also used for:

  • Police surveillance
  • Aerial photography, including real estate
  • Agricultural monitoring
  • Smuggling
  • Oil and gas companies use drones to inspect pipelines
  • Electric companies use drones to check power lines.
  • Ranchers monitor livestock with drones
  • Hollywood uses drones for filming
  • Drones are used to cover sporting events, including the Winter Olympics

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