The Denver Post has a good editorial about the progression of the FAA rules for drones. The congress mandated deadline is September of 2015, but the editorial mentions that the FAA is dragging its feet and it may be as late as 2022 before rules are in place.
In the meantime there is a wild west of drone usage. Some research flights have been approved but they are on a case by case basis and the FAA is inconsistent on which flights to crack down on that are breaking the current rules of nothing above 400ft.
If you want to do the software and hardware development, you will have to go outside the US to use it. For GIS/Geomatics companies with overseas offices, this will not be a problem, you develop in other countries and then bring the technology back to the US when the FAA eventually gives approval.