How Drones Will Replace Humans in the Workplace

PHOTO: Brian Wilson launches a small drone equipped with a video camera to fly over the scene of an explosion an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in East Harlem, March 12, 2014, in New York.
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Drones are everywhere these days. They have replaced professional photographers at weddings, aided farmers mapping crops, assisted on movie shoots, and one day, they might even deliver your mail.

They’re also increasingly affordable. A popular drone model for civilians costs about $500 on Amazon.

But could the gadgets really become as ubiquitous as smartphones? And if so, is your job at risk?

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Maybe if you’re a cargo pilot for FedEx or UPS, said Mary Cummings, a drone expert who teaches at MIT and Duke University.

“Drones will augment the delivery world,” Cummings told ABC News. “And one could argue that they would be much more environmentally friendly since they could take cars off the road for last mile delivery and help reduce congestion.”

PHOTO: A drone lands after taking footage at Erwin Wilder Wildlife Management Area at on October 21, 2013 in Norton, Mass. Drones are used in the area to help seek out illegal hunting activity.
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images
PHOTO: A drone lands after taking footage at Erwin Wilder Wildlife Management Area at on October 21, 2013 in Norton, Mass. Drones are used in the area to help seek out illegal hunting activity.

She said cargo planes used for deliveries will become drones in the next 10 to 20 years. Crop dusters might also find their risky work outsourced. And it’s about time, Cummings added.

“These jobs should be turned over to drones immediately,” she said. “Crop dusting is the most dangerous job in general aviation with a high accident rate. Drones can not only do that job better, but much safer.”

Cummings predicts police and traffic helicopters will also one day be replaced by drones.

But people shouldn’t worry too much about drones stealing their jobs. The technology will also lead to new jobs. For example, Cummings bets robot maintenance will be a booming business in the future.

PHOTO: Lain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance, demonstrates the use of a DJI-drone on July 23, 2014. Ocean Alliance uses drones as research tools to collect information on whales and the ocean environment.
Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe/Getty Images
PHOTO: Lain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance, demonstrates the use of a DJI-drone on July 23, 2014. Ocean Alliance uses drones as research tools to collect information on whales and the ocean environment.

For now, until the FAA eases regulations, personal drones are mostly for fun. A drone recently filmed a fraternity party, and Martha Stewart is also in on the action, sharing photos online that a drone took of her farm.

Drones can go beyond personal videos and photos -- the options are endless, as Cummings points out. Facebook has reportedly expressed interest in using drones to provide worldwide Internet, an Arizona sheriff has mused about flying them above jails and the University of Missouri Journalism School is offering a course in how to use drones to report stories.

“Ultimately, drones will create more jobs than they replace, they will save lives, and they will give us capabilities we only dream about – like everyone owning our own flying cars,” Cummings said.

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