Commercial drones, which are expected to be approved for use in the US in 2015, will create 100,000 jobs in 10 years, adding $13.7 billion to the American economy, according to a new study (pdf).
The study was published by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade association with an interest in promoting the benefits of unmanned aircraft—the industry does not like the word “drone”—but its assumptions offer an interesting assessment of the sector’s opportunities.
While people are bullish about using drones for a bunch of reasons, the study expects that 90% of drone sales will be for agricultural purposes. A key assumption of the study is that US farmers will adopt unmanned aircraft at similar rates to Japanese farmers after the government allowed their use in the early 1990s:
Farmers use drones for precision crop-dusting and seeding, and scanning crops for health problems and growth rates. Japan’s farmers quickly adopted Yamaha products, like the one shown in the video above, although the industry seems to have reached a fairly natural saturation point.
This kind of “precision agriculture” allows farmers to use less pesticide, which is good news for everyone except pesticide companies.
But they won’t use fewer pilots, the study says, because they expect that anyone who loses their job due to the rise of these flying robots will likely have the skills to fly or maintain them, which does raise the question of how many net new jobs will be created.
Many will be in manufacturing and maintenance for these aircraft.
So robots don’t just take away jobs; in this case, they could add some in the United States.
There’s a reason this trade association is releasing a jobs forecast that includes a state-by-state breakdown: The Obama administration’s use of military drones has become a political touchpoint in the on-going debate about privacy, America’s military entanglements, and just how far the executive branch can bend protections on civil liberties. But UAV companies and their allies desperately need government help to get drones into the skies, financed and insured, and that won’t happen if they are the target of public ire.
Hence the public case this industry is making: If it can get its birds into the skies, it can put paychecks in people’s hands.