Drones As We Know Them Now
Many of us are familiar with drones hovering over a football game or getting a stunning photoshoot in a national park. These drones usually require a line-of-vision range for the human operator. Others rely on ground-based radar to follow a pre-selected flight pattern. This has been the standard for drone activity since its inception. Change is in the air.

The Blind Drone
A blind drone is one that does not rely on an operator directing them. It also does not depend on ground-based radar. Instead, it uses an onboard program known as a collision-avoidance system. This allows the drone to fly independently. It can avoid obstacles and maintain its programmed route. The potential applications are significant.

Tests in Alaska and Kansas
Testing in Alaska earlier this year involved a blind drone competing with one operated by a human. The goal for each was to fly towards a vehicle and avoid hitting it. The onboard guidance system provided by Iris Automation won over the human-guided drone. This led to further testing in Kansas. In this test, the blind drone had to operate beyond the operator’s line-of-sight. The success of the test led to FAA-approved innovation to permit longer flights. Prior to this, the FAA required drones to utilize either the human controller and their field of vision, or the ground-based radar, which is expensive to install.

Drones have already been used to find missing persons, inspect property, and provide security. The next development would be drones that can carry medical supplies long distances or cover more ground in a search and rescue operation. Other useful applications include delivering medicines to rural areas or supplying food and water following natural disasters. The expanding use of drones in rescue operations looks like an important step forward in first responders’ efforts.
The test in Kansas used drones to inspect utility wires over long distances. Experts predict that commercial delivery flights could become a significant innovation for 2020. While preliminary tests look good, the general populace needs some time to adjust. Some drone hobbyists have given drones a bad reputation. FAA regulation and drone usage by first responders is changing that.