Gartner has released their annual "hype cycle", which seeks to identify where technologies are in their path to maturity. Gartner thinks that drones (which are a combination of "Autonomous vehicles" and "Mobile robots" above) are 5-10 years to the "Plateau of Productivity", but with the higher "inflated expectations" still to come (followed by the inevitable "trough of disillusionment". Sounds about right to me.
Fast Company explains the methodology of the Hype Cycle and this year's version:
Gartner, a technology research group that has been producing its hype schematic since 1995, says new technologies tend to follow a trajectory. First there's a Trigger--a breakthrough that "kicks everything off." Then, that technology invariably gets over-exposed, leading to a bubble of expectations. At that point, the whole thing implodes (think of what happened the first time around with "virtual reality"). There's a over-reaction the other way, and everyone says the technology will never make it. And so on. Until, finally, the technology--which was a good idea to start with--takes its place in the "Plateau of Productivity."
Themes this year include "bioacoustic sensing, quantified self, 3-D bioprinting, brain-computer interface, human augmentation, speech-to-speech translation," and so on--which all fall under the category of technology that could help companies produce "more capable workforces."
A second theme involves technologies that are actually replacing humans, like "volumetric and holographic displays, autonomous vehicles, mobile robots and virtual assistants." A third group sees a more equal human-technology relationship, and includes "autonomous vehicles, mobile robots, natural language question and answering, and virtual assistants."
"These three major trends are made possible by three areas that facilitate and support the relationship between human and machine," says Hung LeHong, research vice president at Gartner. "Machines are becoming better at understanding humans and the environment--for example, recognizing the emotion in a person's voice--and humans are becoming better at understanding machines--for example, through the Internet of things."
The Hype Cycle has its holes. Not all technologies get over-hyped, fall into irrelevance, and then make it. Some just make it outright--or don't. And Gartner's theory is highly subjective: we could all place the same technologies in different places along the Hype Cycle. The company is hardly a disinterested observer: it manufactures hype itself, making the Hype Cycle seem quite meta.
But the chart does shed light on something that we often fail to see: technology rises and falls because of our belief in it.