Government // Mobile & Wireless
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3/10/2014
09:06 AM
Elena Malykhina
Elena Malykhina
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Drones In Action: 5 Non-Military Uses

Government agencies, universities, and a few private companies won authorization to use drones in the US. Take a peek at the drones on the job.
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(Source: Trimble)
(Source: Trimble)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that as many as 7,500 commercial drones -- ranging in size from the large wingspan of a Boeing 737 to a small radio-controlled model airplane -- will be hovering in the US airspace by 2018. Beyond the military, there are numerous potential uses for drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), such as law enforcement, storm tracking, search and rescue, and aerial surveying. But managing drones domestically comes with its own challenges, which still need to be addressed by the US government and the private companies involved.

The FAA in December set up six sites to test drone operations around the country. The congressionally mandated sites are tasked with conducting research into the certification and operational requirements for safely integrating commercial drones into the national airspace. The six sites include the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University/Corpus Christi, Virginia Tech, and Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York.

The FAA's move to set up drone test locations follows the release of a roadmap in November, addressing current and future policies, regulations, and procedures that will be required as drones continue to become more mainstream. "We have made great progress in accommodating public UAS operations, but challenges remain for the safe long-term integration of both public and civil UAS in the national airspace system," FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in the document's introductory letter.

Safety tops the list, especially when it comes to the logistical challenges of managing drones. "Buildings, antennas, manned airplanes, and other drones can make it a chaotic place, and safety needs to be the number-one focus of those managing drone implementation," said Roei Ganzarski, CEO at BoldIQ, in an interview with InformationWeek Government. BoldIQ, a provider of optimization software, recently completed analysis of Silent Guardian, a solar-electric drone to highlight the benefits of using hybrid technology.

Companies managing drones need to consider logistical planning involving individual drone operations, coordinated drone fleet management, and incorporating drones into a "manned airspace," all while processing enormous amounts of real-time data, according to Ganzarski. "When assessing a fleet of drones operating autonomously or even semi-autonomously, it becomes impossible for the human brain to process and manage the data to keep the entire system operating smoothly. It requires sophisticated real-time dynamic optimization software," he said.

Beyond logistics, another issue is the security of the drones themselves, and the cargo they may be carrying. It's vital that systems are in place to protect these expensive technologies while in flight and on the ground. Privacy is also a major concern for the public. Organizations need to make sure that UAS equipped with cameras do not violate privacy laws, said Ganzarski.

At the moment, almost all commercial drones are banned by the FAA. But that should change in 2015, when the agency expects to release its guidelines for safely operating drones. In the meantime, government agencies, a number of universities, and a handful of private companies are putting robotic aircraft to good use -- and in some cases challenging the FAA's authority.

A judge agreed March 6 the FAA had overreached fining businessman Raphael Pirker, who used a model aircraft to take aerial videos for an advertisement. The judge said the FAA lacked authority to apply regulations for aircraft to model aircraft. That may open the skies to a lot more privately controlled drones. 

Click through our slideshow to learn how drones are being used domestically.

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she ... View Full Bio

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FrankB223
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FrankB223,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/14/2014 | 8:46:23 PM
Better "harden" them
Most of the guys I know would be offended by a drone like this coming near private property and may "flash back" to the good old days of 65 thru 74 and perhaps display some remnants of their PTSD. Seriously, what the hell has become of the government doing everything in the name of security, safety, citizen protection etc. with equipment that clearly has the potential to violate, indeed erase many constitutional rights.  At least a manned helo has less potential to be deployed frivilously, due in part to the high operating costs.
Madhava verma dantuluri
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Madhava verma dantuluri,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/11/2014 | 11:10:27 PM
Interesting
Very interesting article, i believe usage of drones would increase more in the future in the areas of survellience and safety.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
3/11/2014 | 10:24:28 AM
Scary Drones!
Frankly, severral of the posts about this article are more than a little silly; the scary word 'drone' makes a lot of otherwise sensible (or not) people drift off into night sweats; the 'community outrage' over a radio controlled helicopter with cameras on it run by the Seattle PD is a perfect example.  As someone else pointed out, how exactly is it different in concept from a perfectly acceptable but infinitely more expensive (and capable) manned helicopter?  Don't even get me started on the frankly silly suggestion that the noise from drones is impacting the health of Afghanis; even neglecting the fact that an F-16 is about 30dB louder than a Reaper, have you ever seen an Afghani celebrating by ripping off a clip from his AK using ear protection?


Right now today in America, TV shows are using RC camera copters to get overhead shots all the time; watch vitrually any show on HGTV and realize they aren't hiring boom trucks anymore.  These are 'drones,' and if I'm sunbathing naked in my fenced back yard next door, someone might get a brutally unattactive view.   Anyone want to ban that?  Is the loss of privacy offset by the huge savings in carbon footprint versus the boom truck?  Should we ban aircraft, which can do the same thing, but are mostly owned and operated by the evil 1%? 


Technology marches on, and it is important to be aware of what it means, but the 'drone' genie is out of the bottle.  We're going to have to learn to live with it.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
3/11/2014 | 9:08:20 AM
Re: Drones and privacy
vchristy601, this list does a great job of illustrating the challenges policy makers have in front of them. One thing's for sure, these are questions that go beyond the FAA's jurisdictional air space. Even if we work out what rules and regulations should be established for operationg domestic drones, the big question remains, who will be able to really enforce them?

 
vchristy601
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vchristy601,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2014 | 2:40:28 PM
Re: Drones and privacy
Many issues with drones start to pop up as we begin to explore some of the issues including:
  • Noise from overhead (a constant issue for many in Afganastan where it affects health),
  • Air rights (where will I loose my ability to build up for what ever reason in order to allow others to fly over),
  • liability (if I don't register my antenna, your drone crashes who is liable for the damage to drone, and property below),
  • privacy (if you can just hover over the 'hood' with infrared imaging, you can count how many people are congregating inside my home - are we watching Monday night football or overthrowing Saddam?), 
  • traffic - If I set up routes to look at an area and you jump into my 'route' (delivering pizza) and crash into my security monitoring (I am running a security company and now patrol by drone). Who pays?
  • Why will only good guys use? If I am burglar, I will 'monitor' an area until I can see who has left, and monitor if they are coming back. Let's all spend more on security and paranoria.
  • Drone fighters by the bad guys fighting the police drones (who pays for when they crash on my kid)
  • How will this change the expectation of response by public serices? If the drone can see an issue, how quickly can I expect a human (and car) to respond?
  • Using drones to bring medical help - telemedicine, 1st aid supplies, lighting to dark situations, road block to dangerous road areas after accident.
  • Will the assumption that everything will be recorded (will a drone monitoring be admissable in court as evidence for a traffic accident)?
  • The ability to eavedrop on my WiFi traffic (by NSA or private enterprise)

There is a whole series of issues to look at when our world moves from basically 2 dimensional to 3 dimensional in how we measure, monitor and record. When action move from 2 dimension to 3 dimension, the complexity goes from playing 'normal chess' to 3-d chess.  Who is ready?  Too bad, the future is here. We will need to build our legal structure in '3d' where much is still in 1 dimension.

 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/10/2014 | 2:35:27 PM
Re: Forest Fire Detection
msmith,that is an interesting example. Thanks for bringing it up. the next question is what else do the fire-watching drones get to scan for -- and what is off limits.
Dengood
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Dengood,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2014 | 1:12:09 PM
Police Drones
Its okay to operate a police chopper to chase a suspect at a cost of who knows what but a drone, no way?  This does not make sense.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
3/10/2014 | 12:35:58 PM
Re: Forest Fire Detection
There has to be a way to utilize drones in lifesaving and crime fighting applications without trampling the 4th Amendment. Putting a machine a place where human lives are routinely lost or, at least, very much risked, is too compelling to sit on the sidelines. It will take time and various checks-and-balances, but these issues will be resolved in the next couple of years.
msmith801
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msmith801,
User Rank: Strategist
3/10/2014 | 12:14:40 PM
Forest Fire Detection
In 2012, the High Park Fire in Northern Colorado smoldered as a small fire for a day and a half before erupting into a firestorm that consumed 87k acres of forest.  Could it have been detected by a drone when it was still small and effectively dealt with?  I think the answer is yes, but oversight governing which instruuments are on a drone that is flying over private property needs to be in place.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/10/2014 | 11:12:49 AM
Drones and privacy
Law enforcement use of drones could create plenty of controversy during the next few years. What other uses worry you on a privacy level, readers?
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