The best new uses of drones? Not what you think.

Drones are a hot topic today, both in the media and in people’s lives. All kinds of people, from scientists to hobbyists, are finding innovative new uses for these revolutionary flying devices. Today I’ll discuss what I see as the three most promising new domestic uses of drones: not necessarily in terms of their impact on the world, but in terms of how unique and groundbreaking the advantages are that drones offer in each of these fields.

  1. Search and Rescue

When people get lost, the obvious first question is how to find them. As people often go missing in mountainous or otherwise inaccessible areas, search and rescue efforts present a real challenge for emergency services and volunteers. Because cars and other vehicles aren’t useful in these situations, traditional search and rescue usually takes place on foot or from a helicopter – the former of which is very slow and the latter very expensive. Too often hikers or disaster victims perish simply because they aren’t found in time.

Enter the drone. By using drones with live video feed capabilities, rescuers can get a birds-eye view and cover great distances quickly without the astronomical costs of conventional manned aircraft. The comparison with traditional search methods is stark: in a recent emergency situation in Fort Worth, Texas, one volunteer with a drone managed to find a truck that had been washed off the road in a flood. A team of search-and-rescue workers had been trying to find the truck for an hour, but to no avail—the drone pilot, however, found the truck in one 45 seconds. A 98.75 percent increase in time effectiveness: not bad!

  1. Package Delivery

Of the three uses for drones discussed in this post, this is certainly the least-developed so far and it’ll be many years out before we see it in widespread use, but I’ve included it due to its potential to revolutionize the delivery of consumer products.

In 2013, Amazon announced Prime Air: “a future delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones” (Amazon). And the world went crazy over it. It’s easy to see why: in our fast-paced society with a taste for instant gratification, people want access to a wide variety of goods and they want them as soon as possible. Amazon already makes “billions of dollars in revenue on membership fees alone” (Recode) from their Amazon Prime service, because more than 46 million people are willing to pay $100 every year to get free two-day shipping. Imagine what consumers would be willing to pay to drop that two days to the “30 minutes or less” (Amazon) promised by drone delivery!

Prime Air is only one specific application of possible future drone delivery. If many companies were to adopt similar delivery methods, it is feasible to imagine that much of the world would receive near-instant access to almost and physical good imaginable. Drone-based delivery methods could be used to deliver lifesaving drugs in record time, bring repair parts to a driver stranded on a highway, or simply bring you the latest iPhone before Apple’s keynote is over.

We already have information at our fingertips through the Internet – drones are the key to bringing real physical items within the same reach.

  1. Filmmaking and Videography

Since the invention of moving pictures over a hundred years ago, filmmakers have been striving to develop new storytelling techniques through innovative uses of camera movement and placement. Today, there are more filmmakers than ever, since digital imaging has become so inexpensive and ubiquitous that an everyday cell phone is capable of capturing high-resolution video material that rivals film cameras. Modern filmmakers are continuously seeking new ways to shoot compelling video.

Some of the most elusive shots for amateur filmmakers are the dramatic, sweeping, high-angle shots used to establish a scene or give a wider field of view. Getting the camera high into the air and moving it smoothly gives a uniquely professional look to a piece of footage – perhaps in part because the only way to achieve such a look is to use very expensive and difficult-to-operate equipment such as a crane, jib, or even a helicopter

At least that’s the way it used to be. When consumer drones entered the scene, filmmakers suddenly had the ability to put a camera anywhere in the air within moments – and at a fraction of the cost of other methods. One man with a thousand-dollar quadcopter could now capture footage that, only years earlier, would have required a full crew and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I’ve been making videos since I was eleven years old. In my attempts to get interesting and compelling camera angles over the years, I have attached a camera to the end of a long telescoping rod, shot from the inside of a moving car, and even thrown my camera into the air. Nothing, however, changed my filmmaking game quite like drones.

I remember the first time I flew a DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus on a music video shoot in December 2014. The feeling as I flew the drone high into the air and recorded the first video clips was magical. In seconds I had achieved camera placement that I hadn’t even dreamed of in my decade-plus experience of using a video camera. It was the coolest and most revolutionary filmmaking tool I had ever used, and it forever changed the way I thought about shooting video.

Consider what one person with a camera can do with and without a drone. Without a drone, that person can hold their camera, point it in any direction, lift it up to a couple feet above their head, and move the camera as fast as they can run. Add a drone into the equation, however, and that same person can now put a camera anywhere in their surroundings up to 400 feet high (or higher if you don’t listen to the FAA), point the camera, and move the camera at speeds approaching those of a car. The difference is extraordinary – and it all happened in just a few years.

While I recognize that using drones to capture video is only one of their many promising uses (and among the most obvious), it seems to me that drones’ effect on filmmaking is greater than their effect on any other single industry. For this reason, I present the case that using drones for videography and filmmaking is their most promising domestic use.