Not as flying deliverymen that bring diapers, books or soup cans to your home, a vision put forth by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to much fanfare a little more than a year ago.
Instead, drones will help spray crops, inspect high-voltage power lines and hover over movie sets to provide directors with new vantage points. They will also work for insurance companies, real estate agencies, ski resorts and dozens of other businesses.
Advocates of the young drone industry complain that the long wait is keeping them grounded. Big-money investors are generally staying away, waiting for clear government guidelines. And the blanket flight prohibition has prevented companies from experimenting and advancing the technology. That includes developing sophisticated collision-avoidance systems or finding ways for the aircraft to navigate without human help.
Most Americans associate drones with the military, which uses unmanned aircraft to survey battlefields and hunt terrorists. In a similar manner, businesses of all kinds envision using them to perform jobs that are too difficult or dangerous for humans.
If safety and regulatory obstacles can be overcome, within the next three years, drones and the companies that support them could generate $13.7 billion worth of economic activity in the U.S. and create 70,000 new jobs, according to the industry’s trade group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
That means some of the most ambitious drone ideas, like Amazon’s package-delivery system, will probably have to wait. First, drones will tackle the hard-to-do jobs, the dangerous industrial tasks, often in remote places.