The drone invasion now underway

Look ... UP IN THE SKY! Not a bird, not a plane ... it's a drone! Drones are everywhere, so much so that tomorrowthe Department of Transportation will announce a registration requirement for private drone ownership. It's expected to go into effect by Christmas. Of course, by then a lot more drones will be flying. Our Cover Story is reported now by David Pogue of Yahoo Tech:

Colorado farmer Greg Schreiner has a good eye for a good ear of corn. "In my opinion, that's a beautiful ear," he said, pulling off the husk.

This summer, his crops got help from a rather non-traditional farm implement: a drone -- a remote-controlled, flying robot with a camera.

Its pictures revealed a corn crisis: a dead zone that wasn't getting irrigated right in the middle of the field.

"Most of the field was green, and that was kind of a brownish black," Schreiner said. "We walked out into the field, walked into that area, found out that seven nozzles were clogged, which meant we weren't getting water on 37 acres. If we would have let it go, the potential was pretty huge for a loss."

That drone came from a company called Agribotix. "We're selling drones as fast as we can make them," said its founder, Tom McKinnon.

We've come a long way from military drones. Now there's a new crop of small, sophisticated drones that anyone can fly, and they're transforming all kinds of fields -- not just cornfields.

Filmmakers and photographers use them; they can get aerial shots where helicopters dare not go. Engineers use them to inspect utility lines and pipelines far away. Realtors take video of houses for sale -- and even fly through them. Law enforcement uses them to patrol borders.


A Belgian student even designed an ambulance drone that can deliver emergency equipment.

So how hard are they to fly, exactly? "Really simple," Randy Slavin, who owns an aerial cinematography company called Yeah Drones, told Pogue. "Even you can fly it."

Slavin, who is also the founder of the New York City Drone Film Festival, gave Pogue a little Driver's Ed with his $3,000 drone. Nothing to it!

So, drones ARE awesome! Drones ARE easy to fly! Drones ARE changing the world for the better!

Right?

Well, most of the time.

Drones also make headlines for the wrong reasons. Five people were injured a drone crashed into the crowd at the U.S. Open. A drone crashed into a tree on the South Lawn of the White House. And there have been more than a dozen cases of drones disrupting firefighting efforts.

They also make frightening flying weapons.

And maybe scariest of all: drones could get in the way of airplanes.

Clearly, there's a battle brewing. On one side, people who are excited about the enormous potential of drones; on the other, people who worry about noise, privacy and safety.