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Monday, May 6, 2019

Drones Have the Potential to Rapidly Improve Our World, If We Allow Them To

Who knows, maybe in the next ten years we’ll see drones delivering pizzas to people’s front doors or even someday providing quick transportation!

Image Credit: Flickr-Andrew Turner | CC BY 2.0 (

The Austrian army invented the first drones, which took flight in 1849 as balloons carrying explosives and floating into Venice. Since then, drones have evolved into highly customizable flying machines that have been used for many purposes. Recently, entrepreneurs and innovative individuals have developed incredible applications for drone technology to make our world a better, safer, and greener place.

Life-Saving Organ Transportation

In the medical field, a drone was used just last week to deliver a kidney and complete a life-saving operation. According to the American Transplant Foundation,

Almost 114,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant. Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. On average, 20 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant.

One of the reasons why organ transplants can be difficult in the current system is transportation. In order for an organ to still be viable for transplant, it has to be transported extremely quickly from the donor to the patient, and drones could minimize expenses, traffic, and logistical issues.

Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, the doctor who performed the surgery, explained that “We can monitor in real time. It’s like Uber for organs.” But kidney transplants aren’t the only way drones can be used to save lives. Doctorpreneurs identified nine emerging businesses that use drones to deliver blood samples, first aid kits, vaccines, cardiac defibrillators, and disaster relief. These “mini-ambulance” drones are revolutionizing the healthcare industry and utilizing technology to provide services that might otherwise not be available all throughout the world.

Innovative Technology 

Villagers in Myanmar are using drones to plant trees so they can focus on tending to the trees as they grow. These drones don’t simply fly across fields scattering seeds. New technology and innovation have allowed them to plant trees effectively and efficiently. As Adele Peters explains,

The drone technology works in stages. As a first step, mapping drones fly more than 300 feet over the land, collecting detailed data about the topography and soil quality. An algorithm uses that data to choose the best locations to plant trees, and the best species to plant. Next, a second group of drones, flying low over the ground, automatically follows the map to plant seeds in custom, nutrient-filled “seed pods” designed by plant scientists to support each species; each drone can carry a mix of different species simultaneously. The drones fire the pods quickly enough to penetrate the soil.

Government Regulation

Drones are growing in popularity and use, and the government has predictably stepped in to regulate the industry. In England, the Civil Aviation Authority has proposed starting a national registry of all drone users and charging them an annual fee of $18.45, and all states in the EU will be required to have a national registry starting next year.

In North Carolina, WakeMed Health and Hospitals has been trying to develop their blood delivery program by drone but has been blocked by Federal Aviation Administration regulations. As Kristen Rasmussen elaborates,

But don’t expect to see drones whizzing overhead through cities and states en route from one health care facility to another with blood or other hazardous materials in tow—at least not for a while. That’s because Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations allow for the use of drone technology “at a very minimum risk threshold,” said Mark Aitken, senior policy adviser at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

For example, for so-called “revenue flights” like the ones being conducted at the North Carolina hospital, the aircraft, including its attached package, must weigh less than 55 pounds, remain within the visual line of sight, and is prohibited from crossing state lines unless additional FAA waivers were granted. There also is a U.S. Department of Transportation economic authority compliance component.

Who knows, maybe in the next ten years we’ll see drones delivering pizzas to people’s front doors or even someday providing quick transportation! The future of this incredible technology and the rate at which it accelerates will be determined by whether it is allowed to progress or held back by laws and restrictions.

America’s foundational capitalist economy has created strong incentives and has given rise to some of the best technologies our world has ever seen.

Of course, safety is a top priority, and precautions should be taken to ensure drones don’t interfere with airplanes and don’t violate others’ rights, but excessive and invasive fees and barriers could hold back helpful and sometimes life-saving technology! Creating an extensive network of drone operation with digital license plates may take some time, and the manner in which it is done and the final rules will influence just how widely drones will be used in decades to come.

Just 10 years ago, Uber was non-existent. Twenty-five years ago, there was no such thing as Amazon. Companies and technologies like Airbnb, Netflix, Apple Pay, Skype, and Facebook have completely changed the way we shop, travel, communicate, and enjoy life. There’s a reason these companies weren’t invented in Venezuela, Russia, or China. America’s foundational capitalist economy has created strong incentives for innovation and upward mobility and has given rise to some of the best technologies our world has ever seen. I look forward to seeing exactly how drones will fit into our ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-innovating world.

  • Catherine Alles was an Editorial Assistant at the Foundation for Economic Education. She is currently studying at Marquette University Law School.