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Game over, drone haters: FAA predicts commercial use will triple in five years

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May 6, 2019

Raise a toast to dystopian paranoia: As of today, we're officially giving up on the hope that drones won’t someday be able to follow our every waking move.

Already a bastion for our highest hopes and greatest fears in everything from The X-Files to Black Mirror to even friggin’ Snoop Dogg and Spyro the Dragon, serious use of those hovering eyes in the sky already has exploded beyond the government’s highest expectations — and it’s only going up from there.

The Federal Aviation Administration just released a revised rundown of statistics for up-to-the-minute commercial drone use in the U.S., and the little buzzers are already way, way more ubiquitous than anybody thought. According to the FAA’s new annual aerospace forecast, commercial drone deployment increased by 170 percent in 2018 alone, after the FAA had earlier predicted that rate would swell by a far more modest 44 percent.

Last year’s addition of more than 175,000 new craft brings the FAA’s total of registered commercial drones to 277,000, according to the report. Add that to the higher, yet much harder-to-tally number of private and recreational drones buzzing the skies (estimated by Engadget at more than 1.25 million), and it’s a safe bet there could be 3 million or more winged robots clipping around by 2023, when the FAA forecasts commercial drones alone will number at least 835,000.

In other words, drone use is now expected to at least triple in the next five years alone, although the FAA suggests the rate of growth may be volatile and could eventually stabilize. “The significant growth in this sector over the past year demonstrates the uncertainty and potential of the market,” the reports states. “We anticipate the growth rate of the sector will slow down over time — nevertheless, the sector will be much larger than what we understood as recently as last year.”

That may be welcome news for those of us who get nervous anytime we see a glint up above, but it’s definitely too little, too late for the folks at HBO — who literally resorted to prepping sentinel drones to shoot spy craft out of the sky last year, to prevent from-the-set spoilers leaking out about the way Game of Thrones’ final season will end.

But hey, maybe there’s still hope for our inevitable drone-buzzed future. Like Shakespeare said, there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so — and we’ve already seen an example or two of how, in the right hands, drones might actually be good to have on your side…especially if the bad guys have them, too. That may be the best we can hope for, at least, until word finally comes down that science has made its long-awaited breakthrough on that Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak.

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