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Expect to see a lot more drones in the sky in the coming years

November 11, 2020, 2:55 PM UTC

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President-elect Joe Biden looked a little surprised when his Saturday night fireworks show was suddenly interrupted by some additional sky art spelling out his name, the number 46, and then a map of the country.

The secret behind the magic? A choreographed drone swarm, much like the ones pioneered by Intel and used to light up everything from Coachella to the Super Bowl half-time show. The Biden display even prompted Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler to quip: “When does Lady Gaga parachute in?”

Expect to see a lot more drones in the sky in coming years. The pandemic has accelerated a variety of experiments and commercials trial to use drones for deliveries, crop monitoring, firefighting, and a thousand more jobs beyond wowing us by spelling out presidents’ names with LED lights. Industry leader DJI, flocks of startups, and tech giants like Google and Amazon are all working on perfecting the flight hardware, sensors, and software.

Plenty of new gadgets flow through Fortune’s suburban Boston bureau, from 5G phones to 5G laptops, mostly supplied as review units by the manufacturers or wireless carriers. The occasional item is bought and paid for by our household, including the recent purchase of DJI’s new Mini 2 drone (much to my wife Whitney’s dismay, as she takes a strict line against such self-purchases so close to the holiday gift-giving season).

Aaron Pressman/Fortune

But I have to tell you, the capabilities packed into this tiny 249 gram (8.8 ounce) drone are remarkable. It can fly for more than half an hour on one battery charge and travel a distance of up to six miles from where it takes off. The camera takes decent photos and more impressive 4K videos. And the whole thing folds up small enough to fit in the palm of my hand or the pocket of my jacket. The propellers can be pretty buzzy (just ask Whitney), so I’ll try not to annoy the neighbors. But it’s quite a thrill getting a bird’s eye view of the world and some fantastic opportunities for photography:

Aaron Pressman/Fortune

With such technical marvels, drones for business should keep their momentum too. The outgoing Trump administration worked hard and orderly under Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to expand the playing field for drones while keeping an eye on safety and security. Not every move was on target—rules requiring constant Internet connections may be too much, for example. But the incoming Biden administration would do well to follow a similar flight path.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

A view to a CPU. As expected, and as Data Sheet readers may be sick of hearing about by now, Apple rolled out new Mac computers running on a processor of the company's own design dubbed the M1. The new Mac Mini, MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro look identical to their Intel-powered predecessors, but can run programs up to three times faster and last almost twice as long on batteries, Apple claims. We'll have to see how the boasts hold up IRL next week when they arrive in customer's hands. In court, however, Apple suffered a setback as District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rejected the company's counterclaim of theft against Epic Games. "This is a high-stakes breach of contract case and an antitrust case and that’s all in my view,” she said.

Casting about for a new role. Speaking of the incoming Biden administration, the former vice president announced the composition of his transition teams for a host of agencies and departments. A smattering of tech industry participants made the list, including execs from Airbnb, Lyft, Dropbox, Stripe, Microsoft's LinkedIn, and Amazon.

Stop interrupting my grinding. Hot stocks attract celebrity endorsements like jam on toast. So it's probably no surprise that pop star Beyonce Knowles is teaming up with Peloton. The company says its members request to hear Beyonce songs over any other artist. Now Knowles will return the favor and create a series of workouts for Peloton members. Meanwhile, Spotify continues its quest to become the king of podcasts. The music streaming service is buying podcast publisher Megaphone for $235 million.

Costly protection. Shares of Chines tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent, and JD.com have plummeted since the country unveiled new competition rules on Tuesday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng tech index lost 8% on Wednesday, the biggest one-day drop since 2008. Elsewhere on Wall Street, Lyft said revenue plunged 48% to $500 million, but that was better than analysts expected. Lyft's shares, still down 16% this year despite the recent Prop 22 rally, gained 5% in premarket trading on Wednesday.

You smell like, light, gas, water, electricity, rent. Amazon's Ring unit had to recall 350,000 or so of its video camera-equipped doorbells because some of them are overheating and even catching on fire. The problems are caused by installation with the wrong kind of screws, Ring says.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Several trends, including the rise of Google and Facebook, have decimated the local news industry. Reporter Steven Perlberg takes a deep dive for Digiday into some of the startups trying to crack the business model challenge. One idea: podcasts.

Owned by Graham Holdings Company (the company affiliated with the family that sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos), City Cast will be a national network of daily local podcasts. (CEO David) Plotz said he is on the hunt for hosts and producers that embody the voice of particular locations, which are still yet to be determined. “If you think about the way cities used to work a generation ago, there were these iconic figures that embodied the spirit of the city. The anchor on the evening news or the newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin type,” he said.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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Uber to give users a $50 credit if their scheduled rides don’t show up By Danielle Abril

What a Biden-Harris administration means for artificial intelligence By Jonathan Vanian

The pandemic dramatically accelerated the digital shift. These CEOs explain how they got it done By Aric Jenkins

No, VF isn’t the death knell for Supreme By Lucinda Shen

Michelle Wie West on her golf comeback plan: I want my daughter to see me play By Emma Hinchliffe

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BEFORE YOU GO

Sure, hackers want your credit card number, the local hospital's health records, maybe even your city's tax records. But what do they want with thousand-year-old ancient manuscripts? Due to constant cyberattacks, the Vatican's library, which is digitizing 41 million pages from its vast collection, has had to enlist the A.I.-powered guardians from Darktrace to keep out the online crooks. Could Botticelli or Michelangelo have ever dreamed of the bits and bytes protecting their legacy?