By 2025 the drone industry will employ 100,000 people and be worth $82 billion globally, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. That’s impressive considering that the Federal Aviation Administration has effectively grounded the commercial drone business in the U.S. for at least another two years while it studies the impact on safety and personal privacy of countless flying machines in the airways.

Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

By 2025 the drone industry will employ 100,000 people and be worth $82 billion globally, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. That’s impressive considering that the Federal Aviation Administration has effectively grounded the commercial drone business in the U.S. for at least another two years while it studies the impact on safety and personal privacy of countless flying machines in the airways.

Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Drone Nation: A New Industry Takes Flight

An $82 Billion Industry by 2025
An $82 Billion Industry by 2025

By 2025 the drone industry will employ 100,000 people and be worth $82 billion globally, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. That’s impressive considering that the Federal Aviation Administration has effectively grounded the commercial drone business in the U.S. for at least another two years while it studies the impact on safety and personal privacy of countless flying machines in the airways.

Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
Security Drones
Security Drones

Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s railway company, will deploy a fleet of md4-1000 “quad copters” to police its train depots and maintenance yards to protect them from vandals and graffiti artists, a menace that inflicts $10 million in damages annually. Developed by Microdrones in Siegen, Germany, the drone is equipped with a high-resolution, infrared camera and operates in near silence. It can zip around DB property at heights of up to 500 feet and broadcast live footage of what it sees to security officers on the ground.

Photograph by Maurizio Gambarini/epa/Corbis
Catching Poachers
Catching Poachers

Security officers at India’s Kaziranga National Park recently announced they will operate camera-equipped, unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the 480-square-kilometer (185-square-mile) reserve. With rhino horns fetching up to $65,000 per kilogram, the poaching problem has quickly spread across Asia and into Africa.

Photograph by EPA/STR
Better Than Goodyear?
Better Than Goodyear?

In 2012, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports Australia first flew an eight-propellered AUV equipped with an HD video camera around a stadium to broadcast a live cricket match. It did so again this year for rugby. As you can see from the video, the drone gets pretty close to the action—at one point, almost too close.

Courtesy Fox Sports Australia
Drones for News Gathering
Drones for News Gathering

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has created the Drone Journalism Lab, and the University of Missouri is running a course called “drone journalism.” (Research institutions have an easier time getting FAA clearance for drone use than mere civilians or normal business operators.)

Courtesy Matt Waite/University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Protecting the Grapes
Protecting the Grapes

In Bordeaux, winemaker Château Luchey-Halde teamed with French aeronautical company Fly-n-Sense to deploy the Scancopter, a €15,000 camera-equipped UAV, to scan its vines regularly for the onset of disease. The Scancopter can fly as low as 1 cm off the ground to take images of the lower-hanging vines and several feet above to capture a detailed aerial view.

Courtesy Fly-n-Sense
Killing Pests
Killing Pests

Japanese farmers use Yamaha’s unmanned helicopter, the RMax, to spray precise coats of insecticides on crops. The upside is that less pesticide wafts into nearby fields. As of 2011, the tiny unmanned helicopters were spraying 30 percent of Japan’s rice paddies. Experts estimate that farmers will be the biggest users of drones.

Photograph by Randall Benton/ZUMA Press/Corbis
Along the Pipeline
Along the Pipeline

Last autumn, BP ran test flights of a patrol drone in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. It flew above and alongside miles of exposed pipeline to determine if there were any signs of vulnerabilities. It’s not easy to monitor the pipeline during the Arctic winter, but a low-flying unmanned drone doesn’t mind the cold and wind.

Photograph by BP via Getty Images
Special Delivery
Special Delivery

The tacocopter was a hoax, but the promise of drone-powered “automated delivery services” is still getting serious attention. San Francisco's ReAllocate.org raised funds a year ago for Project: Blue Sky, which tested the use of aerial drones to make urgent deliveries (think medical supply drops) in harsh climates. Never mind that they tested it at last year’s Burning Man festival; it reportedly caught the eye of entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Google’s Sergey Brin.

Courtesy ReAllocate/Project: Blue Sky
For Sale by Drone
For Sale by Drone

Tech-savvy real estate agents used drones to help them sell palatial listings until the feds shut them down. In Australia, though, if you have a mansion to sell, you usually hand the listing to an agent who knows both the market and the finer points of drone real estate photography.

Photograph by Cormon Francis