Flight crews can eat up huge portions of movie budgets, Gantman said.
One of the more well-known uses of drones is by police departments. Steve Gitlin, spokesman for drone manufacturer AeroVironment, said law enforcement appreciates the more budget-friendly surveillance capability as an alternative to helicopters. Drones also have been used for search and rescue missions and deployed to locate survivors in natural disasters.
These systems can take care of the jobs that put people in harms way, Gitlin said.
A promising new frontier for drone surveillance could save countless endangered species, as non-profits such as the World Wildlife Fund embrace drones to monitor wildlife populations and track poachers.
Early in 2012, WWF began research into how small drones like the GPS-enabled Raptor could help nations like Nepal stop the illegal wildlife trade. The low-cost technology has been critical in developing countries with gravely at-risk animals like the Asian elephant, white rhino and tiger. For poor countries, the ability to aerially monitor national parks and protected lands is now possible with the advent of these more affordable, model-airplane-sized drones.
Matt Waite, professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said when he saw a drone for the first time at a digital mapping conference in 2001, he was instantly inspired.
I thought about all the natural disasters I had covered as a reporter and I thought, This is it, he said.
Despite his enthusiasm for the new technology, using drones for commercial newsgathering remains illegal in the United States. Still, Waite was interested in pursuing drones potential in the industry, and he set up a drone journalism lab at the University of Nebraska to allow students to experiment with drones.
Anxiety over potential privacy abuses surfaced when a false rumor surfaced that celebrity gossip site TMZ was applying for a drone of its own, presumably to get stealthy paparazzi shots of unsuspecting stars. Waite said he believes this fear of misuse reflects more of the publics distrust of the media as a whole, not the practical application of the technology for things such as traffic reports.
Using drones in journalism does not have to include stalking Lindsay Lohan, he said. Responsible journalists should be aware of the rules.
For civil liberties groups, unchecked use of drones poses serious privacy concerns. But many private-sector uses have mostly positive potential, said Amie Stepanovich, director of the domestic surveillance project of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research group in Washington.
Newsgathering in public spaces and such uses as food delivery all represent a social good as long as video footage is recorded legally and all incidental collection of video footage picked up by a drone conducting a job separate from its recordings capability is disposed of promptly, she said.
Such questions have been left to the FAA, an organization that has never dealt with privacy issues until now. The drone industry awaits comprehensive guidelines, expected to be released in 2015.
We all just want rules for the road, said the University of Nebraskas Waite. Once we have those, we can operate.
Citizens take drones to new heights