As drones become more sophisticated, their potential for positively shaping our lives is huge. Consider vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) technology. VTOL aircraft are able to lift and descend straight up or down and don’t require a large landing strip. While some manned aircraft can already do that, Alonso says, it’s only a matter of time before autonomous VTOL air taxis are transporting people more easily (and cheaply) than planes.
Meanwhile, new technology that would allow Amazon and Domino’s to deliver packages and pizzas by drone is almost ready, experts say.
The sticking point is regulation. “In a couple of years, we could see delivery drones operating in rural areas,” says Gettinger. For urban areas, the FAA will have to find a balance between safety and encouraging innovative use of drones. But that will happen, he believes.
Still, as the use of commercial drones increases, Americans will have to grapple with the trade-offs of having them constantly hovering overhead. “Is the value of having a pizza delivered to your doorstep by drone worth the potential safety issues or the noise pollution?” Alonso asks.
For his part, Alonso can live with the potential downsides. “I am a convert,” he says of the promise of drones. “They are going to transform the world in ways we haven’t even thought of.”