The near future of flight: From small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to single-pilot commercial planes
“This is the future of aviation,” Mr. Anderson, 49, said. “Our children will not believe that people used to drive cars and drive airplanes. We are the weak link in the chain.”…
…He is not alone in his thinking; many companies and research institutions are working to design drones for commercial and other uses. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that around 50 companies, universities and government organizations are at work on at least 155 drone designs in the United States alone.
Chris Anderson tends to be ahead of the curve on most things (see: his oft-cited work on the economic possibilities of “The Long Tail,” [here's the book] which has become common parlance in the Internet/ecommerce space). In most cases, I disagree strongly with the use of UAVs for military purposes, but it’s hard to ignore the innovations to the a whole host of industries, not least general aviation and transportation, that developments in robotics and UAV technology imply.
In aviation and transportation, for example, the controversial, but highly successful, CEO of Ryanair Michael O’ Leary has proposed changing European law to allow for single-pilot flights. This article at WSJ argues why that isn’t possible now given current regulations and technical specifications for current planes, but there is apparently little reason why such an innovation couldn’t be possible in the not-so-distant future.
I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog that the aviation industry will likely follow the development path of the computer industry. First, the major innovations will be built, owned and manufactured by a specific set of companies (i.e. Boeing is for aviation what IBM is for computers), but eventually the internal software will drive the machine, and hobbyists will eventually build their own small planes that will soon after provide commercial services for all individuals.
The skies are a common/public good and so are technological innovations in aerospace in a society that allows us to have them. DIY Drones (the social-network and store), Chis Anderson’s website dedicated to UAV hobbyists, is but one example of space created for the purpose of enabling individuals to innovate in the aerospace industry.
Now, what happens when UAVs and jetpacks for the average consumer become fully commercialized? When in conflict, who’s rights will be more important then? The on-the-ground hobbyist’s interest in flying a robotic plane or the jetpack owner’s interest in flying themselves? Should be an interesting debate—expect it in about 5-10 years.
(Thanks to Steve Conry for the image.)