Sci-fi buys: Drones and robots

By Jim Powell, Global Changes & Opportunities Report

Commercial drones — or unmanned aerial vehicles — will, no doubt, soon become very popular. In addition to being useful, they can be made inexpensively and can save companies a lot of money. Robots are also making big advances in the commercial market.

These new industries have excellent potential. Here are two favorite ways to play these long-term, high-tech trends.

In February a new federal law was passed that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to draft rules that will allow drones to be used in commercial applications. The new law also calls for drones to be used much more widely in law enforcement.

Although privacy issues are a concern, the courts have generally decided that anyone outside the home and in the open is fair game, just as they would be if tracked by a police helicopter.

I recently inspected a drone that carries an infrared monitor along high-tension power lines to detect hotspots. The drone replaces two men plus a helicopter that costs over $1,000 an hour to operate.

Commercial interests are not losing any time getting into the rapidly expanding drone business. In anticipation of the new industry, Boeing (BA 0.00%) engineers and MIT students teamed up to create an iPhone app for controlling drones from up to 3,000 miles away.

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