Why my fascination with UAVs and DIY drones? Aside from the obvious fact that they’re unbelievably cool and suddenly within the reach of a dad and some pre-teen kids? Well, I’m not saying this is exactly what we’re planning (okay, we’re not planning it at all), but consider the following as to why cheap and ubiquitous UAVs might someday have some major commercial application:
The hot business trend of the moment is all about geography: bridging the web and the real world, from map mashups to hyperlocal news and Twitter. Between Google Earth and Google Maps, our friends in Mountain View are leading this charge, with higher and higher resolution imagery, more and more frequently updated. But right now that’s still done with a combination of satellites and small aircraft, which are either low-rez (satellites) or expensive and woefully incomplete (planes).
Meanwhile, on the web Google and the other search engines use software bots to "crawl" from site to site, building a picture of the whole web link by link. It’s cheap, comprehensive and scales beautifully. This pleases the software sensibility of the masters of the Googleplex.
But what if you could deploy airborne cameras as easily as a software spider? What if those cameras were carried on platforms so light and cheap that it didn’t matter if they occasionally got stuck in a tree or fluttered to the ground? What if you could deploy them by the thousands to quietly scan cities block by block at an altitude of a few hundred feet, below planes but above buildings, no louder than a bird and no more dangerous?
What if, in short, cheap UAVs became "spiders for the real world" in the way software is for the Web?
Obviously there are loads of regulatory hurdles that would need to be cleared first, and the fact that the domain geocrawling.com was available (not anymore!) tells me that this sort of effort is not already underway. But the arc of technology says that it will be possible, sooner rather than later. We’ll do our part to make that sooner.