Drones are currently being used for everything from package delivery to construction, inspecting wind turbines to surveying farm fields. But this technology is continually being improved upon, and while flying drones are incredibly useful, drones that can drive have even more potential.
In 2006, the FAA issued the first permits for commercial drone use. In 2010, French company Parrot released the first ready-to-fly drone, the Parrot AR Drone. This could be controlled entirely through a smartphone, using Wi-Fi. Amazon wowed the world in 2013 when it released a video showcasing the concept of its imagined drone-based delivery system. By 2016, drones were released with machine learning technology and smart computer vision, allowing them to intelligently track objects, animals, and people while avoiding obstacles.
Flying and Driving Drones
In 2017, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory released a new prototype for wheeled, autonomous drones that would be able to switch between both flying and driving. While normal drones can’t maneuver on the ground, a drone with wheels can be much more mobile, with the weight of the wheels only resulting in a slight reduction in flying time, according to MIT.
While airborne drones are agile and fast, battery technology has not yet evolved to the point where they can stay in the air for long distances. On the other hand, ground vehicles are much slower and less mobile, however, they’re also much more energy efficient.
Not only does this mean many more opportunities for the use of drones, but it could pave the way for flying cars. That’s because it makes much more sense to build on the years of research that has gone into drones, instead of simply trying to put wings on cars.
In 2016, Uber announced that it was setting its sights on an on-demand urban aviation system. In other words, it wants to develop flying cars. And if you’re wondering if it’s serious, the company has even released a detailed white paper about its plans.
Uber describes the journeys of the future as being made of small aircraft that can both take off and land vertically. Of course, there are hurdles that are currently standing in the way of flying cars. One of the biggest is battery technology (something that may be overcome with the use of a flying-driving hybrid), vehicle efficiency, affordability, vehicle reliability and performance, emissions, aircraft noise, safety, pilot training, the certification process, air traffic control, and more. That’s quite a list. Luckily, drones are paving the way, although the FAA is still getting rules in place for small, parcel-carrying drones, and has so far paid little attention to flying cars.
Drones in Pop Culture
If you ever watched The Jetsons, you probably remember their flying cars. With all of the interesting technology that this cartoon had, the flying cars are what most people remember.
ABC sitcom Modern Family had a number of drone-themed episodes, with storylines featuring the use of drones contributing to the award-winning sitcom. Mythbusters also often used drones, and Jimmy Fallon and Tyler Perry once had a drone race on the Tonight Show.
In the series Black Mirror, each episode is a commentary on some form of technology, and one episode features drones made tiny- Autonomous Drone Insects which were invented to solve the bee population problem. In Back to the Future Part II, a drone is featured as Biff is arrested outside a courthouse, and the drone (from USA today), records his furious response.
Drones have also been used in video games for some time, both as political statements and to make an impact.
While drones have long been able to fly, the ability to drive will be a game-changer. Keep an eye out for this technology in the next few years.