By Ching-Yu Lin
Drones were once niche toys owned by professional film crews. Today, it has the potential to revolutionize delivery, healthcare, defense, farming, and several other industries. As most retail companies transition to an online model—especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—drones could minimize overhead costs associated with shipping and handling. On the consumer side, delivery drones could expedite shipping, making e commerce even more appealing. Despite concerns of automation stealing jobs, commercial drones are projected to create 100,000 jobs and add $13.7 billion to the US economy by 2025 (Jenkins and Vasigh 2). However, the widespread adoption of drones carries a myriad of privacy, logistical, and wildlife concerns. Although the implementation of commercial drones can have tangible benefits for businesses and consumers alike, federal regulation and fears of a Terminator-esc takeover may hamper them.
Drone usage is at an all-time high and is only flying higher. Since World War II, they’ve worked secretly behind the scenes, conducting reconnaissance missions and drone strikes. However, most of these efforts are kept under wraps for the sake of confidentiality. On the other hand, within cinematography, drones have created a name for themselves. Take the opening scene of Skyfall: a drone effortlessly captures James Bond’s rooftop motorcycle chase (Fung). Similarly, the recent rise of recreational drones has empowered independent filmmakers with the ability to create beautiful cinematography that used to be exclusive to big production houses.
Even on campus, many young filmmakers have invested in drones, which have continued to become more affordable as its technology improves and demand grows. For example, when DJI released their first drone in 2017, DJI Phantom, it was one of the firsts in the market and came at a steep price of around $400. Fast forward to today, you could find a drone for as cheap as $40 on Amazon. Young filmmaker Reagan Radwanski (NYU Tisch ‘24) shared her experience with drones, saying “They add a level of professionalism to my otherwise obviously student projects. Establishing shots, aesthetics and otherwise stilted shots bring my projects to the next level. At the same time, I have to be wary not to overuse it when I’m in an outdoor setting.”
Corporations are also taking advantage of this “drone age.” For example, Amazon recently launched its Prime Air Program. It plans to use “fully autonomous — no human pilot” drones to deliver packages below five pounds in 30 minutes or less according to its website. Although there are still a few years ahead of launch, the program would transform e-commerce. The sheer speed and efficiency would attract millions—just like the advent of Amazon Prime 2-day delivery had. Drones aren’t just feeding into the twenty-first century’s consumerism. They have also adopted a more humanitarian position in the world. The drone’s nimbleness allows it to enter situations precarious to the human body. For example, after the Black Summer in Australia, NSW National Parks and Wildlife utilized drones to survey the dangerous terrain. Similarly, drones are especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic where people are trying to minimize human contact. The FAA has eased regulations to accommodate for the need to deliver vaccines and other medical supplies.
Despite all the upsides, whether or not they are fully adopted by the world remains to be seen. We currently live in the “digital age,” yet the danger of malfunction and the resulting lack of privacy still concerns many. Drone delivery may also lead to more sedentary lifestyles as people gravitate toward online shopping even more. Additionally, while drones reduce carbon emissions from delivery trucks, they could also disrupt the flight patterns of birds. However, without true widespread trials, the extent of the impact also remains to be seen.
Where will drones to fly next? The opportunities are truly endless.