Rise of the drone hobbyists

eople around the world are building their own drones. They offer a glimpse of what life will be like when the skies are filled with small, flying robots – and drones become as common as smartphones.

Raphael Pirker was sitting on a bench at Washington Square Park on a blustery Friday in New York. A small drone called Discovery, a remotely controlled aircraft made by his company, TBS Avionics, was on the bench next to him.

Nearby another drone was flying near a fountain. Even before he saw the drone, he heard it. “It’s just like this, ‘bzz-bzz’,” he said.

An onlooker watched the aircraft – “a beginner drone”, Pirker said, crash into the pavement.

Down the block hundreds of people had gathered at New York University for a Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference. Like Pirker, many of them were carrying their own drones.

On a global scale the US and Israel are the world’s biggest manufacturers of drones. Yet some European officials want to change the dynamic.

Michel Barnier, a European Union commissioner, told a group of French journalists in July that Europeans should make their own drones, rather than rely exclusively on US- and Israeli-made ones.

Pirker is also planning for the future. In Europe drones are used to make movies (see Smurfs 2). In the UK officials have granted permission to more than 130 companies and government agencies to fly drones, according to an Aerospace America report.

In the US the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the use of drones for police and government agencies, issuing about 1,400 permits over the past several years.

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