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Nathaniel Bullard and Claire Curry

Why Power Companies Love Drones

The small, unmanned electronic devices can save a lot of money in inspection costs.

They’re coming for us.

They’re coming for us.

Photographer: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg

There are already 170,000 small, unmanned aerial vehicles licensed in the U.S., and the Federal Aviation Administration predicts another half-million more of them to be airborne by 2022. Drones are everywhere, doing all sorts of things, including delivering hamburgers and beer to golfers. They’re taking group photos, scouting properties and being shot down by neighbors.

They’re also competing, and the competition is serious. Lockheed Martin Corp. has launched a $2 million competition pitting human operators against artificial intelligence in races through obstacle courses at speeds of more than 80 miles per hour. Tiny, sensor-laden electronics might sound like a game — but as Lockheed’s interest suggests, they should sound like business.