The commercial drone market appears ready to take off, but the benefits may not be seen in the U.S. anytime soon.
According to Fairfax, Virginia-based aerospace-research company Teal Group, worldwide sales of military and civilian drones will reach an estimated $89 billion over the next decade, the Associated Press reports.
FAA officials say Congress-approved rules need to be in place to mitigate the safety challenges of unmanned aircraft sharing the same skies as manned aircraft, according to the AP. The bad news for businesses ready to implement the technology is that the agency is still years away from issuing final rules for "small drones"--defined as those weighing 55 pounds or less.
But the rest of the world isn't waiting for the U.S. According to the AP, Japan's Yamaha Motor Company has been using drones to spray crops for the past 20 years; Germany's DHL is testing its "Paketkopter," a drone for delivering urgent packages; Australia implemented the flying technology to capture cricket matches last year; and the United Arab Emirates is working on a project to use drones to deliver driver's licenses and other government permits.
U.S. companies that want in on the action are looking abroad for opportunities. Facebook is currently in talks to buy Moriarty, New Mexico-based Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of solar-powered drone-like satellites, for a project aimed at providing Internet access to the unconnected corners of the world.
Andreas Raptopoulous, CEO of California-based drone company Matternet, told the AP that impoverished countries will start using drones sooner than the U.S. Raptopoulous says his company sees a market for drones to deliver critical goods, food, and medicine to the 1 billion people around the world who don't have access to developed roads. Matternet will start selling its drones and landing pads to governments and aid organizations later this year, the AP reports.
Paul McDuffee, the vice president of Bingen, Washington-based Boeing subsidiary and drone-maker Insitu, told the AP that businesses in the U.S. cannot afford to be the last country to reap the benefits of the drone economy.
"We don't have the luxury of waiting another 20 years," McDuffee says. "This industry is exploding. It's getting to the point where it may end up happening with or without the FAA's blessing."