Probably the most well know drone design, the DJI Phantom. Pic: Dronelistr
One estimate says a million commercial drones were sold in 2014. The prediction is that two million will be sold in 2015.
Here are 7 things you thought you knew about drones.
Drones are a new thing
Drones have actually been around for over 100 years. Marilyn Monroe started her working career assembling radio controlled aircraft to help anti craft gunners practice their skills (you might impress drone fans with that fact).
Drones are remote controlled aircraft
While all drones are remote controlled aircraft, not all remote controlled aircraft are drones. A drone needs to be able to operate autonomously. Whether that be take-off and landing or returning to the start point if it flies out of range or the battery is low.
They are only useful for specialised work
Actually the main driver for using drones has been their ability to do jobs few others would want to do. It has given rise to the statement that they are best for jobs that are dull, dirty or dangerous.
America is the principal manufacturer of drones
The US may be the largest market and it does have a significant stake in growing the drone industry, but Israel is big manufacturer of military drones and China's DJI output is driving a lot of the growth in the industry.
Frank Wang is the man that made the drone a household word when he created the company in 2006. By 2013 they were earning over $100 million the next year that had reportedly grown to $500 million. Forecasts are for a $1 billion in sales for 2015.
Other big manufactures are based in Switzerland, Canada, Sweden and Korea.
They will get bigger and better (but are best for short trips)
The real future of drones will see them get smaller. The smaller versions will be cheap and expendable with less of the high tech sensors. To make up for that the drones will collaborate as a swarm.
This would both allow them to cover much larger areas for search operations and make them more likely to survive when used in dangerous scenarios.
The military versions will also swarm (although the US Navy calls it Locust - see below)
The range varies from only hundreds of meters to an unlimited distance. Both Alphabet (Google for those that missed their name change) and Facebook are building solar powered drones that will spend months in the air flying autonomously used as mobile base stations for areas that don't have coverage. Alphabet is also working on a delivery version to work in remote areas.
They will be plentiful in the future but not now
Besides the 2 million expected to be sold in 2015 as commercial drones, the US military in 2012 had 1 in 3 planes being a drone. In 2005 it was only 5%, so it is likely that it is even higher now. Many other nations maintain fleets too.
They just do surveillance or destroy things
That is almost right, but the ever growing field of uses include search and rescue, agriculture, exploration, inspection and repair, conservation, meteorology and traffic monitoring. In fact anything that will benefit from an elevated vantage point or work that is dull, dirty or dangerous will likely see a drone created to deal with it.
The law has not caught up with developments
This is the one thing you would be correct in assuming. Regulators around the world are trying to deal with the tough questions that drones present. From privacy to licences to insurance and a host of other issues when drones operate across borders. Some are being resolved by the manufacturers themselves by creating no-fly zones that the drones will not enter, even if you try. The principal zones are airports with some displayed below, although none have been defined over Africa yet.
If all the passenger and cargo aircraft in operation amount to about 20 000 aircraft then the sheer volume of drones will make it almost a sure bet that when you see something in the sky in the future it will not have a pilot.