COMMENTARY: HOW DRONES CAN HELP

NASA uses drones in some of its programs.

Privacy concerns, integration into the national airspace and spectrum allocation are the big three obstacles to wider deployment of unmanned aerial vehicle technologies. Like any new technology that develops faster than the speed of policy, lawmakers, lawyers and others grappling with these issues should not allow them to curtail the benefits of UAVs.

Who would have thought in the 1950s that room-size computers would spawn new areas of law and new questions around intellectual property and warfare? Finding creative ways to manage equally innovative UAV technologies involves similar hurdles. Innovative technologists and business leaders had the vision to harness the benefits of computers, while taking on the contemporary issues they raised. We are in the middle of doing the same with UAVs.

Unmanned but not unpiloted, UAVs are commonly referred to as “drones,” which implies the absence of an intelligent human operator. In fact, satellite and ground control stations feed a large amount of data to remote UAV pilots to inform their decisions. As is widely reported, the U.S. military uses UAVs in theater now and has been successfully using them for decades.

The public knows less about civilian uses of UAV technology. The Aerospace Industries Association released a report recently to address the perceptions and potential of UAVs. They noted that domestic applications are predicted to include search and rescue, law enforcement, weather forecasting, border patrol, firefighting, disaster response, precision farming, commercial fisheries, scientific research, aerial photography, mail delivery, communications relay, infrastructure monitoring and emergency management.

The corresponding benefits are more accurate weather forecasts, safer streets, bumper crops, fewer Americans engaged in dangerous jobs, more dangerous fugitives apprehended and reduced risk to firefighters.

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