Drones converge on California coast
Both surfers and mountain bikers are used to the occasional low flying pelican or diving hawk. But these days, what's up in the air may not be a bird at all. It might be a drone.
Last week top drone-makers gathered. They were in one of the most popular regions for outdoor activity in the U.S. It's California's Central Coast. They showed off their devices. They also heard about new uses for airborne robots. And, they hit the waves and trails.
The meeting also included investors, regulators and inventors. The meeting was the Drones Data X Conference Santa Cruz. It ran from May 1 to 3. Experts explained how unmanned-aerial vehicles can map remote areas. They also shared how drones can rescue hikers or swimmers.
Federal regulators are still sorting out drone rules. They were on hand to discuss updates on regulations. Those discussions included whether operators need to keep a drone within their line of sight. They also included how high can they legally fly. And, can a drone be flown directly above a person.
"Drones are in a bit of their Wild West period right now. But in the future they'll be used to transport people, medicine, goods. Anything done on a highway will just as well be done by air," conference organizer Philip McNamara said.
Spending on unmanned aerial vehicles is projected to double over the next 10 years. It should grow from about $6.4 billion a year to $11.5 billion a year. That is according to industry analyst Teal Group.
McNamara said about 90 percent of the investment money flowing toward drone technologies comes from Silicon Valley. It's an area of California. Silicon Valley is about 30 miles from where the conference was held. It is the country's hub for high technology businesses.
Santa Cruz hopes to capitalize on drone technology. The city's economic development director Bonnie Lipscomb hoped some firms liked what they saw. Santa Cruz includes sandy beaches and redwood forests.
Local mountain bike and kite surfing companies loaned gear and expertise to the conference.
Sergio Capozzi at the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals said there is both crossover and conflict between outdoor recreationists and drone enthusiasts.
"There is likely an appropriate time and place for drones in nature. The challenge comes in finding the right balance of when and where drones are appropriate," he said.
Prices for drones are expected to go down. Their technology will advance. More park and wilderness visitors will want to use drones. But it's important that everyone is having a safe and enjoyable experience, Capozzi said. He noted that drones can be used to gather photos and videos. They would not be accessible otherwise.
"Sharing these experiences encourages others to seek out similar experiences. In particular on public landscapes," he said.
Richard Dolesh is a vice president at the National Recreation and Park Association. He said park managers aren't paying enough attention. The use of drones has rapidly increased. But it's unclear to many about what it's going to take to effectively manage drones.
Dolesh noted that national parks banned drones. Visitors had complained. The drones' noise was too loud.
"People travel long distances," he said, "for peace and solitude."
Critical thinking challenge: Why is spending on drones projected to double over the next decade?