EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Business

May 12, 2013

Businesses look to use drones for commercial purposes

WASHINGTON — The next time you feel the urge for fresh Mexican food, just look up. A taco-toting drone may be circling in the sky.

Researchers at the Darwin Aerospace laboratory in San Francisco have designed the Burrito Bomber, the world’s first airborne Mexican food delivery system, which would allow customers to have food parachuted right to their doorstep.

As fun as they may be to think about, such ideas are unlikely to be realized anytime soon. The Federal Aviation Administration likely won’t decide until 2015 on the regulations to integrate burrito-bearing drones into urban airspace.

But the potential of a booming domestic drone industry for commercial purposes has entrepreneurs seeing dollar signs. A far stretch from the military strikes that most people typically associate with drones, developers have begun hatching a litany of ideas for unmanned aerial systems in the commercial sphere, controlled by civilians in American skies.

From conservation efforts and crop monitoring to Hollywood filmmaking and, of course, food delivery, experts anticipate the value of the commercial drone industry, already worth almost $14 billion per year, to skyrocket to more than $82 billion by 2025, according to Mario Mairena, government relations manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which lobbies on behalf of the drone industry.

“And that’s a conservative estimate,” Mairena said. “We’re excited about where the industry is at right now.”

Although opponents decry the Big Brother-like intrusion of thousands of remote cameras roaming the sky, Mairena said the industry could create as many as 70,000 jobs in the first three years after the Federal Aviation Administration releases guidelines to integrate unmanned systems into national airspace, scheduled for 2015.

Chris Anderson, co-founder of drone manufacturer 3D Robotics, said he expects the commercial drone market to boom once it gets clearance to enter the skies.

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