Drones soar past their military uses

  @FortuneMagazine November 30, 2012: 6:26 AM ET
FUT03 drones

Unmanned flying machines aren't just for tracking down bad guys anymore.

(Fortune)

The word "drone" probably doesn't make you think "fun" or even "useful." After all, the most familiar unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is the hulking, weaponized, and sinisterly named Predator deployed by the U.S. military. But drones are destined for gentler tasks; they could be making their way into homes as tools and into distressed areas as humanitarian aids. French company Parrot is already selling its high-end toy, the $300 AR.Drone 2.0, to consumers.

Utility

Drone experts imagine do-it-yourselfers tossing a UAV in the back of their trucks alongside their chainsaw and toolbox. UAVs could be used to monitor crops, for example, or by homeowners who want to check rain gutters without climbing on the roof.

Humanitarian

Advanced image processors could scan and identify areas hit by natural disasters, feeding information to relief workers on the ground. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also promoted research into using UAVs to deliver vaccines to remote populations.

Fun and games

Phone and tablet apps can already pilot drones and allow owners to pit their piloting skills against each other. Cameras embedded into the hulls capture high-definition still photos and videos, getting aerial shots that used to require elaborate equipment.

An exclusive look inside Israel's drones

This story is from the December 3, 2012 issue of Fortune. To top of page



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