Drones. UAVs. They scare the heck out of some, and garner excitement from others, but let me assure you, there is no better conversation starter than, “so, I was flying my drone the other day…”

The idea of having a drone or UAV is to some the ultimate geekdome, to some its unnerving, yet to others its “really cool” and fodder for excited questions and amazement. Honestly, whenever I fly my AR.Drone, it try to do so away from people, and have been doing so for two years. Partly for safety reasons, they lose control sometimes, and I really don’t want to be explaining to poor Mary Sue why a drone just fell on her head. But mainly because its hard to fly while fielding all the questions and interest people have.

When I’ve been taking the drone up at work at Vanier College’s IT Support Services where we’re experimenting with using drones to get campus footage as well as for site surveys for our new campus map, I regularly get visits from campus security, not to detain me for flying on campus, but to chat about the drone and to figure out how to justify that in a budget – astounded at the video quality and flexibility compared to fixed monitoring systems. We’re certainly not the only educational institution experimenting with drones – the University of South Florida library is happy to loan our drones (DJI Phantom 2) to students on campus. Just think, for architectural students, a drone can allow them to see building structures and layouts from angles they could only dream about.

But what’s most fascinating is wondering where this is all going to go. We’re on the doorstep of the new world that consumer drones will be ushering in – a revolution with the potential to be similar to the automobile, sliced bread, or the Apple I. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what consumer drones (and that differentiation separates them from missile-toting or surveillance drones) are capable of, and the technology is frighteningly young. Each new drone that comes out in these past few short years pushes the boundary leaps further, both in capabilities, stability, flight-time, range, and potential. But just think what it could be like in 10 or 20 years if this is the very beginning. Look how far the computer went in 23 years from the Macintosh in 1984 to the iPhone in 2007. Amazon has already given us an optimistic view of what they’re planning with their delivery drones,Dodo Pizza in Russia is already using a drone to deliver pizza, and farmers are excitedly using drones to survey their fields.

There are a lot of obstacles facing this future – from FAA restrictions on commercial use of drones to public concerns about privacy and safety. Yet just as the telephone suffered from restrictions and privacy worries in its early years, it perceived and set the stage for technologies and massive social shifts over the 20th and 21st centuries.

This is just the beginning, and the future may well be [hopefully silently] buzzing with aerial opportunities.