Virtually anyone who has flown a quadcopter or other modern drone will say that they are a blast to fly. Drones combine the cool factor of impressive technology, the excitement of unmanned flight and the thrill of exploration, all in one amazingly simple and easy-to-operate package. Whether you fly alone, with friends or with your kids, flying drones is just plain fun.
But drones aren’t only about fun. They will have an impact on virtually every aspect of our lives from agriculture to energy, scientific research, conservation, public safety and more. Drones have been labeled “disruptive technology,” and held up as avatars of the mythical “billion-fold improvements” that have taken place in computing, imaging, aeronautics, medicine and other fields. Drones will come to shape our lives every bit as much as cellphones, tablet computers and other game-changing technology.
Futurists are abuzz with speculation that you will soon have your Amazon packages or Papa John’s pizzas delivered to your door by drones. Mainstream media outlets breathlessly report breaking-news stories about unauthorized or potentially dangerous drones, such as the recent story of an errant drone piloted by a possibly inebriated operator in Washington, D.C., who, while reportedly trying to impress a female friend at 3 a.m., flew his friend’s quadcopter from an apartment balcony a few blocks from the White House and crashed it on the White House grounds, causing major heartburn for the Secret Service.
Industry and media statistics on how many drones have been sold to the public differ slightly, but the sales totals almost defy belief. Hobby and commercial drones are reported to be selling at the rate of 15,000 or 16,000 per month, or almost 200,000 per year. That’s a lot of people who will be looking to get outdoors and fly their new drones. And where will these people want to fly their drones? Why, in the wide open spaces designed for outdoor recreation, of course — parks!
There is no doubt drones are coming, and they are likely to have a profound effect on parks and recreation. The public and commercial use of drones will present substantial challenges to park managers very soon and agencies will do well to be prepared for the coming wave.
Richard J. Dolesh is NRPA’s Vice President of Conservation and Parks.