Depending on what you’ve read, drones are devastatingly effective weapons of war, the next big threat to personal privacy, a revolutionary leap in video technology, or hazardous toys capable of chopping your fingers off. By Consummer Reporter



Consumer Reports has looked into some of the innovative ways that researchers and pioneering companies are developing to use these flying robots.
■ Package delivery. In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos said about 86 percent of the orders the online retailer ships weigh less than 5 pounds. That’s lightweight enough to be delivered by drone. Amazon is testing autonomous aircraft that could drop a book or a pair of shoes at your home within 30 minutes of receiving an order. So it’s not difficult to imagine a day when you no longer have to rush out to the store for a quart of milk.
■ Agriculture. In recent years, farmers have discovered that drones are useful for monitoring the health of their fields. When fourth-generation grain and apple farmer Jeff VanderWerff gets a commercial license to operate a drone, he plans to put the craft to use on the family’s 1,800-acre Michigan grain farm. Aerial imagery from a drone equipped with an NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) camera could help him more accurately estimate the yield of a crop in July, rather than waiting until harvest in October. With special software he could spot crops beset by diseases, weeds, and flooding while there’s still time to save them. And he could then use the drone to efficiently apply fertilizers and pesticides.
■ Photos and videos. The soaring panoramas captured by drones are compelling enough to have made their way into movies such as “Captain America: Civil War” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” as well as CNN’s coverage of the earthquakes in Italy and Ecuador a year ago. Consumer Reports found that real estate agents and travel hot spots are also embracing the technology.
■ Humanitarian aid. About 1.3 billion to 2.1 billion people worldwide don’t have access to essential medicines, the World Health Organization says, often because they live in hard-to-reach places. To address that, California drone maker Zipline last February signed a deal with the government of Rwanda to shuttle supplies to remote areas, on demand. With “Zip” drones, which cover a roughly 50-mile radius, a health center in Rwanda can send a text message to order blood for a patient with severe malaria-related anemia and it shows up via parachute within 40 minutes.
Similar efforts involving organizations such as UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, as well as the companies Matternet and Vayu, are already underway in Malawi, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea.
In August, the Obama administration said it would partner with private companies to begin testing the idea on Maryland’s Smith Island, Washington’s San Juan Islands, and Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Tribal Health Clinic.