Drones: Some Quick Thoughts

There has been no shortage of coverage on drones lately, especially around the holidays when the cheap ones were selling fairly well as toys. I think the industry leaders have a very different view of why drone technology matters, or at least I suspect they do, because there is a drone revolution closer than many people think. The biggest hurdle in the United States is the FAA, but that's outside the scope of this piece.

So what do I mean by a revolution? Much of the common hype is largely misaligned with where the large scale profit opportunities are because the mass market messaging is most easily conveyed when they speak the consumer's language. The message, "a toy your kid can play with" hits home for nearly everyone. The more profound opportunities are the infrastructure applications where something like Amazon's drone delivery service research announcement is only the beginning.

One of the trends we're staring to see, most readily portrayed by the Internet of Things, is the attempt to close the gap between the digital world and the physical world. Drones could help play a large role in this transformation. Drones are highly mobile, they're capable of executing tasks, they are filled with sensors (including cameras), and (of course) they're connected.

This means that we can "be somewhere" without being there and without anyone having ever been there for that matter. Drones allow real time information to be easily transmitted – imagine a group of smart drones that using traffic analysis go to points of congestion and and provide live feeds. One effect is that we no longer need traffic helicopters, but the more interesting options include more advanced rerouting options, entire traffic light grids that re-calibrate to alleviate congestion and learn, better snow plow routes, and of course better criminal tracking capability.

I wouldn't expect most homes to own their own drones, though they might, but I would expect them to use drone based services. Whether that's drone delivery, "eyes in the sky" capability, home or business security, or even seeing how bad the line is at the Apple Store after a new iPhone launches, there will be entire industries that pop up around the shared drone capability model.

All of this discussion is based on our mindset today. People used to say "Who needs a phone with them all of the time?" and now most of us can't imagine life without the supercomputer in our pocket. We're at the early "no idea what is going to hit us" phase of the drone industry lifecycle, this is the beginning of the beginning. Don't be the person everyone is quoting in a decade like Ballmer is with the iPhone saying it had "no chance" of gaining substantial marketshare.

The FAA would be foolish to stand in the way. I know there are problems related to safety, congestion, privacy, ownership and responsibility for accidents, and more. It isn't a simple problem to solve, but it will be solved, and it will be a tremendous commercial success – I can't imagine an America where we bypass that opportunity.