a16z Podcast: Airspace as the Next Internet-Like Platform

One of the most important lessons of the internet age is what happens when we give people — including companies, developers, engineers, hobbyists, and yes, even a few bad (or dumb) actors — a new platform, along with the freedom to innovate on top of it. For example, who could have predicted how profoundly the internet would change our economy, given how it started off as a research project — one where commercial applications were actually frowned upon in the early days?

Now, the U.S. is on the cusp of opening up another such platform for commercial and social innovation: airspace (think drones, the non-military kind). There’s so many use cases for drones that we already know about, but what about new business use cases? And then, on the policy front, how do we calculate the risk of innovation on a platform made up of atoms (drones) vs. bits (the internet)? What are the pros and cons of registration? Because even though drones are like flying smartphones controlled by software, they’re also hard objects that could fall out of the sky … or go places where no one could go before, for better or worse.

The guests on this episode of the a16z Podcast — continuing our D.C. and tech/innovation/policy theme — share their thoughts on safety, privacy, paper airplanes, and what they think are some of the most exciting things now possible in airspace. Joining the conversation are Washington, D.C.-based Mercatus Center tech policy lead Eli Dourado, along with graduate research fellow Samuel Hammond; Airware founder and CEO Jonathan Downey; and SkySafe CEO and co-founder Grant Jordan.