Q. What are the potential applications for recreational drones?
Like commercial drones, recreational drones are a growing industry, with drone manufacturers reporting revenue growth of three to five hundred percent per year. In 2014, the fourth-most-searched item under "I want to buy" is "drone."34
Chris Anderson's assessment of the individual interest in drones revealed about 1,000 new personal drones enter the skies every month.35 The Do-It-Yourself Drones community, a community composed of individuals who assemble their own drones or assemble those of premade kits they buy online, had 26,000 members as of 2012. Their membership tripled to 61,000 by 2014.36 As one technology outlet observed: "if the recent holiday season (2014) seemed like a big one for drones, brace yourself, because it's just the beginning. The global market for drones will climb to at least $1 billion by 2018." This would represent an enormous increase from the Consumer Electronics Association's forecast of $130 million for 2015.37
These personal technologies include inexpensive toy drones marketed toward young teenagers. More advanced drones are also available for individual use for photography and videography. The most popular hobby drone has been the Chinese-made DJI's Phantom 2 Vision+, a roughly $1,000 drone with a mounted camera device and a GPS for stabilizing the drone in windy conditions.38
Drones are appealing to individuals and hobbyists interested not just in new technologies in their own right but also in the instant and intimate documentation of their experiences. As Anderson suggests:
If you're a windsurfer and want a great Youtube video of your exploits, you're not going to get that from the shore, and hiring a manned helicopter and camera crew to follow you offshore isn't cheap. But if you've got a "Followme" box on your belt, you can just press a button and a quadcopter drone with a camera can take off from the shore, position itself 30 feet up and 30 feet away from you and automatically follow you as you skim the waves, camera trained on you the whole way.39
That technology then becomes smaller and lighter and can be placed on a soccer ball to follow youth sport, or can bring new meaning to "helicopter parenting" by tracking a son or daughter on his or her way to a bus stop or school. Knowing that the FAA's 400-ft. operating regulation is difficult to enforce, some companies are considering incorporating altitude and geographic restrictions to help self-regulate the industry. This is intended to allay any concern about potential collisions that could set back the rapid growth that the civilian drone industry is seeing. In other words, a drone manufacturer's device getting sucked into a commercial jet and causing safety concerns for hundreds of passengers may not be good public relations for that company. Nor will it help business since such incidents are likely to trigger a backlash and more restrictive regulations. Several companies are hoping to preempt such regulation by programming in these restrictions while also educating the users of the technology so that they exercise more restraint and caution.40