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                                  Welcome to the Drone Age

      THE scale and scope of the revolution in the use of small, civilian drones has caught many by surprise. In 2010 America's Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) estimated that there would, by 2020, be perhaps 15,000 such drones in the country. More than that number are now sold there every month. And it is not just an American craze. Some analysts think the number of drones made and sold around the world this year will exceed 1 million. In their view, what is now happening to drones is similar to what happened to personal computers in the 1980s, when Apple launched the Macintosh and IBM the PS/2, and such machines went from being hobbyists' toys to business essentials.

      That is probably an exaggeration. It is hard to think of a business which could not benefit from a PC, whereas many may not benefit (at least directly) from drones. But the practical use of these small, remote-controlled aircraft is expanding rapidly. These involve areas as diverse as agriculture, landsurveying, film-making, security, and delivering goods. Other roles for drones are more questionable. Their use to smuggle drugs and phones into prisons is growing. Instances have been reported in America, Australia, Brazil, Britain and Canada, to name but a few places. In Britain the police have also caught criminals using drones to scout houses to burgle. The crash of a drone on to the White House lawn in January highlighted the risk that they might be used for acts of terrorism. And in June a video emerged of a graffito artist using a drone equipped with an aerosol spray to deface one of New York's most prominent billboards.

      How all this activity will be regulated and policed is, as the FAA's own flat-footed response has shown, not yet being properly addressed. There are implications for safety (being hit by an out-of-control drone weighing several kilograms would be no joke); for privacy, from both the state and nosy neighbours; and for sheer nuisance—for drones can be noisy. But the new machines are so cheap, so useful and have so much unpredictable potential that the best approach to regulation may simply be to let a thousand flyers zoom.

                                              [Source: The Economist September 26th 2015- adapted]
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