Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for takeoff, folks. Drones are no longer the stuff of the military or the wave of the future: They're the here and now. Just ask the Federal Aviation Administration.
As 2015 drew to a close, a registration rule went into effect. As of Dec. 21, anyone who wants to purchase a drone – otherwise known as an unmanned aerial vehicle – has to register it with the FAA.
Within the first month of online registrations, drone purchases have exploded. An estimated 300,000 owners have since signed all the necessary paperwork, granting them the licensing needed to put their newfound flying device to use.
"The registration numbers we're seeing so far are very encouraging," said Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator. "We're working hard to build on this early momentum and ensure everyone understands the registration requirement."
First drone used in 2002
Though drones have actually been around for a while, they've only recently come to be a household name, often the subject of news reports and trial tests by well-established businesses. For example, Amazon announced last year that the company may eventually turn to drones for delivery purposes. Aviation officials are preventing the program from getting off the ground, however, due to safety concerns that unmanned flying machines could create.
While the extent to which drones will be used is up in the air, one thing is certain: They're not going away any time soon. This notion was hammered home at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Drones were a hot topic among patrons and exhibitors alike. According to ABI Research, drone spending globally could be north of $8 billion as early as 2018, The Associated Press reported. The Consumer Technology Association is more conservative in its projection, predicting spending will reach $953 million by 2017.
Patrick Moorhead, principal research analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, predicted drones that are capable of performing a wide variety of aerial abilities could be widely available within three years.
"You should be able to get a drone that can effectively follow you, not run into things, and find things on its own," Moorhead told the AP. "That's pretty cool."
Many consumers worry drones pose safety hazard
While drones may someday become more mainstream, consumers aren't entirely convinced of their safety. In an unscientific online poll conducted by Claims Journal, nearly 30% cited drones as the emerging technology with the most risk.
Fortunately, insurers are already preparing for drones' increased popularity. As noted by the Insurance Information Institute, most homeowners insurance policies provide for repairs caused by drones. This includes liability should someone be injured or property be damaged. Should drones veer off course, causing a car accident or chipped paint, the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy applies.
No one knows for sure if drones will truly resonate with most of the public. If FAA registrations are any sign of what's to come, their popularity will soon take flight.