My own personal passion revolves around using drones for search and rescue applications and environmental applications, and I can confidently predict that there will be a lot of activity in that area this year as well!

How will drone development be affected in the United States by the FAA’s proposed regulations?
I’m based in Australia, so I’m not as closely involved in the FAA proposals, but I hope and expect that the U.S. regulators will take a look at what is happening in other countries (including Australia) and start to make it easier to get certification for commercial and research UAV use.

It is a hard problem though, and I personally am quite sympathetic to the very difficult task faced by regulators. The whole area of airspace regulation is not well geared to the scales involved with drones, both in terms of the sheer number of aircraft that are potentially involved and the low purchase cost of the aircraft.

Drone research and development is definitely being greatly affected by the slow pace of regulatory change, and I think everyone in the industry is looking forward to the rules developing to make commercial and research operation easier. Exactly how and when that will happen is very hard to predict, but in the meantime we certainly have plenty of development tasks to keep us busy!

What are some use cases where you see drones being beneficial?
As I mentioned above, my personal passion is for search and rescue and environmental applications. I started working on ArduPilot because of the Outback Challenge here in Australia, which is a competition to build a sophisticated search and rescue aircraft. My dream is to put together a system which local search and rescue organizations could assemble with the sort of money they could raise in a weekend lamington drive (a type of cake sale popular with non-profit groups in Australia), yet be sophisticated enough to provide a real improvement to the chances of rescuing people lost in the Australian bush, and easy enough to use that members of the organization could be trained in a weekend.

I also love to see all of the groups that are using code from Dronecode projects for environmental applications, including things like protecting threatened species from poachers, monitoring of sensitive environmental areas, monitoring of Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems, and surveying of forests and wilderness areas.

Drones have the potential to be much more pervasive than that though. They are hugely popular with sporting enthusiasts and have gained a lot of traction in agriculture, among other areas. Just spend a few hours going over some of the amazing blog posts we have had on diydrones.com to see the huge breadth of ideas people have for putting drones to good use.

How can drones be abused?
So far we haven’t seen a lot of abuse of drones, although as with any new tool there will be some people silly enough to do things they really shouldn’t be doing. Some people have flown in a dangerous manner, flying close to airports. Others have ignored the many safety warnings and flown too close to groups of people. Others have used drones in socially unacceptable ways by using them to invade the privacy of others.