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Time will tell on drones [Editorial]

It's always interesting to witness the development of new entrepreneurial ideas. At the start, many sound fascinating. Some become mainstays of business (like desk-top computers), while others quickly manifest themselves as passing fads (like Pet Rocks, a largely forgotten product that was all the rage for a few months in the mid-1970s).

Realtor Robert McArtor, who works with RE/MAX Components on Route 1 in Fallston, has come up with what sounds like a wonderful commercial civilian application for airborne drones. He wants to use remote controlled aircraft to give potential customers a live look at the lay of the land around the houses they're considering buying.

It's a wonderful idea from the customer's perspective insofar as a view from on high would show any potential deal breakers that would be just over the horizon. And if customers are happy with the information they have at hand when they buy, they're likely to be satisfied. Satisfied customers make for a good reputation on the part of the seller.

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Of course, it's fine if one or two Realtors are doing it, but if it turns out to be a useful tool, it won't be long before drones are required equipment for people in the real estate business. Logistically, it remains to be seen if such a situation is feasible. A few hundred drones in the air over a prime real estate sales neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon could present some real airspace control problems.

The Federal Aviation Administration has rules in place that allow for remote controlled aircraft to be used the way McArtor employs them. The rules were set up largely for remote control aircraft hobbyists and preclude the vehicles from being out of the sight of the operator and prohibit them from being flown into airspace higher than 4,000 feet.

It's an interesting time for this new technology. The FAA rules would preclude, for example, the operation of automated drones making deliveries of packages, an idea floated some months back by the founder of Amazon.

Will drone technology become the next big thing in real estate sales? It remains to be seen. After all, similarly useful in providing high level but detailed views of land, the Google Earth function, can be relied upon, regardless of the weather, time of day or number of drones over a given neighborhood.

Only time will tell.

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