2014 Was the Biggest Year for Drones (Until 2015)
Drones were everywhere this year, but they’re going to be even-more-everywhere next year.
There's a week left in 2014, but for much of America, the year in drones starts today. And that's scaring the bejeezus out of the Federal Aviation Administration.
No doubt, thousands and thousands of teens and adults will have a drone sitting under their tree this morning and, no doubt, many of those people will have no idea what they're doing when they go fly it for the first time.
For that reason, then, we can expect 2015 to be much like this year when it comes to drones, only magnified exponentially. This is the year that drones—not Predator drones, but little white plastic toys (OK, and lots of other variations on the little white plastic toy)—became a common topic of conversation. And they aren't going away anytime soon.
Case in point: Earlier this week, the FAA put out this campy, almost aggressively poorly produced video called "Know Before You Fly." It is the FAA's most accessible attempt yet to beg prospective drone pilots: Please don't be idiots with these things. And the agency that oversees the FAA has already said that it's going to be "nearly impossible" to actually police all the drones people are going to get for Christmas.
But that's the future.
To understand how we're going to get to a place where your regular-ol' person owns a drone, however, we have to understand what the heck happened this year to keep drones in the public consciousness so much.
And lots happened. People were innovative with drones, people were stupid with drones, the government fumbled with what to do with drones. The commercial use of drones was kinda-sorta-illegal, and then it was completely legal, and then it was illegal again. Hobby use of drones was unregulated, then it was quasi-regulated, and now it exists in an exceedingly confusing state in which the FAA can call whatever use it wants illegal.
Drones took pictures of naked people and filmmakers made porn using drones. Pepper spray guns were attached to drones and drones were shotgunned out of the sky. The "dronie" became a thing. A teenager was assaulted by a woman for flying his drone. Two hobbyists were arrested by the NYPD after the police chased after their drone. Speaking of police use of drones—they're using them. Is that a good or a bad thing? Who knows.
And that's kind of the deal, here: Some uses of drones are awesome; others, not so much.
File these ones under the Case For Drones column: Lakemaid Brewery announced in February that it would be delivering beers out to ice fishers in Minnesota using drones (the FAA squashed it). Anti-poaching activists used drones to monitor wildlife and look for poachers in South Africa. Hundreds of small businesses thrived (and flew safely) as real estate photographers, pipeline and agricultural field-monitors, and wedding photographers. Amazon and Google both dipped their toes into drone delivery, to varying degrees.
And file these under the probably not so great developments for the future of drones: Frat bros filmed their parties with drones (OK, this one was just kind of tacky). The National Parks Service banned drones outright—and, after the ban, someone went and crashed one into a lake in Yellowstone. Not one, but two drones (one on each coast) were blasted out of the sky with a shotgun. The FAA has done all it can to keep these out of the sky and, in doing so, has potentially made throwing a frisbee illegal. There are still privacy concerns. They've been used to smuggle drugs into prisons. The big ones are and will remain targeted killing and surveillance devices.
The list goes on, but I'm going to stop it there. Because this is probably going to be the last year in history that one can even do a "The Year in Drones" article and actually do a reasonably thorough job of catching everything. Moving forward, trying to nail down "The Year In Drones" will be like trying to make a list of what everyone did with their smartphones or computers all year.
Unless, of course, one of you who just got a drone for Christmas goes and does something colossally destructive or dangerous with it. So, yeah—please don't ruin it for the thousands of people out there who have turned the drone industry into one of the most exciting sectors in recent memory.