Feb 19th 2014 | Posted in Public Safety by Mary Scott Nabers

SPI President & CEO Mary Scott Nabers

SPI President & CEO Mary Scott Nabers

Unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones, are becoming more common in spite of the fact that they are highly controversial. The topic of drones falls squarely into the “Hot Topics” category in the United States.

A drone is an aircraft either controlled from the ground or from a computer that has been pre-programmed. One type of drone is used for reconnaissance and surveillance and other types are armed with missiles and/or bombs.

The drone industry is quickly developing into big business and some statistics suggest we may be on the cusp of a worldwide drone boom.

In the United States alone, drones could become an $82 billion industry and create more than 100,000 jobs between 2015 and 2025, according to an international industry group.

Demand for drone technology is in extremely high demand because of its applicability across a variety of industries. Many states are offering tax breaks and incentives to attract drone-manufacturing companies.

That’s one of the reasons why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced that six states had been chosen as locations for preliminary drone research sites. After evaluating 25 proposals from 25 states, the FAA approved drone testing projects in Virginia, Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Texas. Tests conducted at these locations will help build the framework for the regulation of drones, which will eventually open the door for full commercialization.

Each site will study a different aspect of drone flight. Congress has indicated it wants the research finished as quickly as possible to give drones the full go-ahead by September 2015. Of course, some experts think this may not be a realistic deadline.

Here are a few examples of how drone technology is being used today:

  • Officials from the St. Louis Police Department plan to use drones to pursue and monitor criminals. Experts say this would be more effective than pursuing a criminal on foot, but less expensive than using a helicopter. Police departments of all sizes are analyzing how drone technology could be used.
  • NASA is using drones to conduct cutting-edge research related to hurricanes and tropical storms. NASA drones have flown more than 100 missions to study violent meteorological events, often in conditions that would be too dangerous or impractical for human pilots.
  • Drones can be used to help farmers by providing a more precise guideline of where and when to spray pesticides. Drones attached to infrared cameras are able to detect ailing crops, because healthy plants reflect more infrared light than decaying ones.
  • The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is using drones to count Sandhill Cranes in California. Sandhill Cranes are large birds that can be counted from the air. Observing the cranes with drones is less conspicuous and it ensures a more accurate count.

In spite of drone benefits, the technology can create some problems. Flying a drone requires an operator and a spotter, and both must undergo extensive training. Additionally, current drone regulations state that operators must be able to see the drone at all times.  This means they can’t be flown at night.

Other more controversial issues include the following:

  • Because drones are so light in weight, they can be knocked out of the sky by bad weather and high winds;
  • Control of a drone can be interrupted if its radio frequency is disrupted by any type of interference over the airwaves; and
  • Drones also present privacy issues because of the potential for increased surveillance of private citizens.

But, governmental agencies and private companies alike are clamoring to get their hands on drone technology. And once they do, it’s likely that all kinds of new uses will be found.

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.