Drones or at least news about drones has been muted over the past year. News followed a standard pattern that started with a lot of hype and noise. Then the focus changed to all the bad things that can happen around drones.
Stories emerged of drones on flightpaths and drones causing damage to aircraft (one video showing a drone chopping off the end of a wing later turned out to be fake). That said, safety quickly became a focal point, and regulators swiftly moved to make up a new set of rules for their use.
Then, of course, there were delicious stories about prisoners getting their drugs and phones delivered by drones through prison bars, all of which added to the intrigue and hype.
Now, though, drones are back in the news as people with common sense and business acumen consider the real uses for small Unmanned Aerial Systems (why not just call them drones?)
In the UK, BT is leading a proof of concept for commercial drones, while in the US, there are already hundreds of thousands of these vehicles in service.
Once the safety issues have been resolved and rules and registrations and usage protocols have been agreed, it is easy to see the benefits.
In communications alone, network maintenance using unmanned vehicles to check lines, identify problems and report back on the most effective solutions makes sense. Being able to identify the right tools, trucks and access that will be needed will save time and money.
In many other sectors, drones will help police track criminals (this is already happening, of course). In healthcare, organs and medicine can be delivered safely without getting caught in traffic and mountain rescue will be a lot more effective in quickly identifying people who have got lost in the wilds.
Ultimately, they will become part of our everyday experience, and it is likely that they could even deliver our parcels. The market is set to grow, fast.
How much of this becomes a reality in 2021 is debatable. More than we expect, as the need for automation keeps accelerating. Drones will be a central part of many arenas in the years to come and, like many things, their acceptance will continue to be accelerated by the pandemic.