CEO of personal drone company 3D Robotics (and former Wired editor in chief) Chris Anderson just uploaded this video of one function for personal drones: The ability to fly completely autonomously, and follow their owner wherever they go. Drones smart enough to function autonomously, without the need to be steered or even monitored by their users, could be key to making them useful as everyday assistants.
As Anderson said in a post on Google+:
On a super windy day at the Berkeley Marina, we demoed the ArduCopter FollowMe function. That’s me walking around with a laptop (with a USB GPS dongle), and the copter follows me around like a pet robot bird. Then at the end I tell it to land itself, which it does.
Note that there’s no RC control at all. This is all autonomous flight, with mission commands issued with a point-and-click interface on a laptop. And in some serious wind, too!
The military applications are obvious (imagine soldiers being able to get a birds-eye view whenever they like) but the ways in which this will transform the lives of civilians are a bit more confounding. Will the wealthy rely on them for security? Once they’re affordable enough, will we use them to mind our children? Could they someday deliver something other than information, like takeout from the corner Chinese restaurant? Right now drones are toys, but like PCs and smartphones before them, it’s not hard to imagine them becoming the essential gadget of the future.