I Went to the Drone World Expo and Saw the Future. It Sounds Like Bees
Standing in front of a drone in a mesh cage, a somewhat nervous man with a somewhat Southern accent tells us about his machine, which a pilot is banking left and right and flinging up and down. It’s got a 4K camera and can hit 40 mph. When its battery runs low, it buzzes your phone. It’s not just a “solution,” but a “complete solution.”
This is the 21st century version of the Wild Man caged and prodded in a freak show, and that freak show is the inaugural Drone World Expo—75 exhibitors and more than 2,000 drone pros packing the San Jose Convention Center in the heart of Silicon Valley. The overwhelmingly male crowd, which is overwhelmingly wearing branded polo shirts, is here because there’s a mountain of money to be made in this nascent industry, perhaps almost $12 billion a year by 2023. Need a camera system? Look no further. How about lawyers to keep the FAA out of your hair? They’re here too.
This place sounds like the future—a high-pitched white noise not unlike the hum of bees. The smaller drones sound like mosquitoes. Regardless of what insect they sound like, these machines are big business, because more and more, drones are infiltrating our lives.
By now most of us are familiar with your typical hobbyist drone, a quadcopter of varying levels of sophistication. Plenty of those swarm the conference, but the true stars are the commercial drones, hulking beasts already out there doing real work. Rising above all the others—literally and figuratively—is the Flexrotor, which is perched atop a Jeep because MASCULINITY. It’s a fixed-wing drone, but it goes about things a bit differently. To take off, it sits straight up on its tail a lifts like a helicopter. Once it gets to altitude it pitches over and starts flying like a traditional fixed-wing.
It can be yours for a cool $200,000. Exorbitant, sure, but so is a Cessna. The idea here is someone can put the Flexrotor up in sky to keep tabs on activities below—illegal fishing, for instance. The drone will never tire and a crash won’t kill pilots … unless they crash the drones into themselves, of course.
Any other number of other drones here can do the same, and surveillance is just one commercial application here. Drones can carry cargo, for instance (Amazon’s plan to use them to deliver packages is, how should we say, wildly farfetched). Others use LiDAR to spray things like mining sites with lasers, mapping them with incredible detail.
Which is all to say the future of the drone is bright. So get used to hearing that buzz. It’s the sound of a dude in a polo shirt making some serious cash.