History includes many military inventions that civilians eventually use and dramatically improve. The Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) is one example of that phenomenon. Initially developed for military use, the UAS typically includes an airborne vehicle, a ground station that controls the vehicle, and an individual who runs the ground station to pilot the vehicle. The UAS is commonly referred to as a “drone,” though that term seems too limited for the capabilities of a UAS. Initially large and cumbersome, the drones have benefitted greatly from the smartphone industry, which continually produces smaller, faster and cheaper embedded processors, batteries, sensors and optics for its own use. Using these continually improved elements, civilian hobbyists and the toy industry have made drones so progressively small, lightweight and inexpensive that modern drones costing less than $1,000 might fit in a person’s hand.
The usefulness of drones is not lost on businesspeople. Farmers, realtors, energy companies, media companies, film companies scientists, surveyors, Amazon.com and others have realized that drones can be inexpensively used for such wide-ranging tasks as monitoring crops and water, drawing aerial maps, managing traffic, obtaining film footage, examining real estate and delivering packages. Potential abuse of drones is not lost on people, either. Some warn that drones could be used illegally by spies or Peeping Toms, or could cause accidents on the ground and in the air. Nevertheless, Congress is so encouraged by the prospects of drones that it passed a September 30, 2015 deadline for integrating drones into American airspace.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is preparing rules for drones use, probably including certification of drones, licensing of its pilot and an established minimum distance from airports. Due to the length of time involved in finalizing FAA rules, which must be approved by the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon, among others, it appears that the FAA rules will not be completed by the September 30, 2015 deadline. Nevertheless, the widespread commercial use of drones is anticipated and the FAA estimates that 10,000 will be licensed within the next 4 years.
Until the FAA rules are finalized, individuals and organizations wishing to use drones for their business must obtain an exemption from the FAA. A number of businesses, including film companies and news organizations, have requested exemptions. Meanwhile, some other businesses are using drones without FAA rules or exemptions and their uncontrolled use has resulted in several FAA subpoenas. Though drones extensive use is inevitable and probably already here, the FAA is determined to control drones in American airspace.
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