Potential commercial real estate applications for low-flying aerial vehicles abound: these include mapping, surveying, traffic measurements (vehicle and foot), hyperlocal weather reporting, parking availability reporting and competitive research and analysis, just to name a few. There isn’t a sector in commercial real estate that couldn’t use an eye in the sky at one point or another.
The plummeting price of the drones themselves (note: link is to a hobby device only) plus the steady onset of hardware and software solutions for collection of visuals and presentation of data from those visuals are together creating a new set of tools that were previously available only to governments and militaries.
Drones are a little bit like the internet in that way.
None of which means anybody should run out and buy a drone or a drone fleet tomorrow: there’s the little matter of airspace management to consider. And for that, we have the Federal Aviation Administration, whose work in the area is going to set the tone of the impending era of commercial, private drone traffic.
The good news for drone enthusiasts is the FAA is well underway in researching the issue. The Baltimore Sun reports that the FAA has selected test sites in six states for the purposes of researching the widespread introduction of private (and law enforcement) drone technology into US airspace:
Drones, best known for their use in war, are expected to transform American life in the coming decades. The FAA has issued more than 1,400 permits for unmanned aircraft since 2007, mainly to police departments and civilian federal agencies; the agency estimates that the number of small commercial drones will grow to 7,500 within five years.
Research conducted at the six test sites will help the agency develop regulations to allow unmanned aircraft to fly safely among manned jets, airplanes and helicopters.
Other countries already are using drones to dust crops and monitor oil spills. Florida is testing a system that can spot mosquito larvae in difficult-to-reach mangrove trees. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has described plans to use unmanned aircraft to deliver orders — just as the U.S. military has shipped cargo to troops in Afghanistan.
News organizations have spoken of using drones to produce footage of natural disasters, police chases and crime scenes. Real estate agents want them to take aerial photographs of properties.
Maryland already has established itself as a center of the growing industry. The state is home to several manufacturers. The University of Maryland, working closely with the Navy and NASA, is developing vehicles. And the military has long tested drones at Pax River.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the main industry group, estimated this year that drones would add 2,500 jobs and $2 billion to the Maryland economy by 2025 — part of an $82 billion impact nationwide.