This morning’s “Hawaii Geek Beat” segment on Hawaii News Now focused on the increasing popularity and promise of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones.
While drones are frequently associated with military operations, the commercial applications of the technology are even more interesting. Over the holiday season, online retailer Amazon made headlines by demonstrating a prototype drone delivery system. A couple of weeks ago, video of the Pipeline surf break on the North Shore of Oahu, captured by a UAV, went viral.
Once a specialized technology costing tens of thousands of dollars, camera-toting UAVs are now within reach of consumers. From the $300 Parrot AR Drone to the $1,200 DJI Phantom to the $12,000 eBee drone, it’s not hard to imagine a future where these small aircraft are part of the standard toolkit for many businesses.
The FAA actually banned commercial drone use in 2007, leaving them only to hobbyists (who must still keep below 400 feet and keep away from commercial air traffic). But with massive interest from both businesses as well as government agencies (check out “Civilian Drones,” a documentary about the struggle to use them in search and rescue operations), the FAA is under pressure to incorporate UAVs into the nation’s airspace by 2015. And even that may not be soon enough. Unofficially, drones are already widely used in a variety of ways, and the FAA ban is being directly challenged.
Last month, Hawaii was designated as one of a handful of official drone testing sites by the Federal Aviation Administration, meaning the Aloha State will play a small role in transitioning UAVs from an under-the-radar hobby to a full-blown industry.
Our morning show appearance barely scratched the surface of this topic. Fortunately, tomorrow’s Bytemarks Cafe broadcast on Hawaii Public Radio will tackle it in depth. We’ll be joined by Jim Crisafulli, Director of the Hawaii Office of Aerospace Development, Todd Stellanova, founder of Big Island-based Droneflow, and Ted Ralston, renown aviation expert.