Drones ARE the Future Aviation Industry
What are drones, really?
When I joined Aero Drone Corporation, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what drones were: cute flying robots with growing but limited commercial potential. I thought of drones as either esoteric and advanced military spy vehicles, or small and fun quadcopters, with limited range and utility beyond carrying sensors. To me, they were quite different from the vehicles that people fly in.
Then I challenged my limited view, asking myself, “What really makes something a drone, versus, say, a plane?” I think the answer is this: drones are planes that fly without pilots aboard. Being a drone is about automation. Drones are not necessarily small; in fact, they can carry people and cargo. The difference is they do it without an onboard pilot. For example, a commercial passenger jet flying without a pilot is a drone. In fact, pilotless planes and jets are drones by definition.
Will we have pilotless commercial planes and jets? There are two key aspects to this question. First, will we have the technology? Additionally, will society accept its use? It seems that the technology is well on the way for cars and trucks, and there is no reason to believe it is more difficult for aviation. To further push these advancements, there are huge financial incentives for autonomous aviation, and growing financial investment in autonomous (drone) flight.
A Societal Shift
Considering public acceptance of autonomous flight, would you be willing to fly on an airplane without a pilot onboard? My mom tells me that people used to be afraid to get on an elevator without an operator. Now, we routinely ride trains—such as the Vancouver SkyTrain and the London Underground—without an operator. We are beginning to introduce driverless cars on our highways as well. History indicates that people become accustomed to technology. Society will accept driverless vehicles. And, in the near future, the aviation industry will rely on the “drone,” that euphemism for pilotless flight.
- Russell Hargrave, President and CEO, Aero Drone Corporation