Drone uses, questions are many

Posted August 11, 2014
Updated August 12, 2014

In the air, droning overhead, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) is increasing. Hobbyists, photographers and even news organizations have deployed the remote-controlled flying machines. Amazon has joked about using drones for doorstep delivery.

The fleet overhead has raised questions about technology, privacy and air space safety. So far, many of those are unresolved while the Federal Aviation Administration works out rules for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The only current clarity comes in a federal ban on the use of UAVs for commercial gain, but there are legal challenges to even that limit.

In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by state or local governments. The budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory last week set limits for drone use, but any state laws will eventually have to comply with FAA regulations.

At North Carolina State University, members of the Aerial Robotics Club design, build and navigate unmanned aerial vehicles without knowing how they'll eventually use the skills they are practicing.

"It's been a massive learning experience," said student RJ Gritter. "UAVs have blown up in the market."

Gritter's team recently claimed first place in an international competition with a drone that can pinpoint targets for search missions and drop rescue supplies.

Kyle Snyder, of the NextGen Air Transportation Center at NC State, is working on ways to integrate drones into an efficient and updated national transportation network.

"There's a lot of newness to it," he said. "We're still trying to figure out how best to manage it, what are the real capabilities and who should have access, who can't have access."

That access will be key as drones become more common.

"In the image processing, in the manufacture, in the components, all of this has become more and more inexpensive," said Dr. Larry Silverberg, associate head of NC State's Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department.

Privacy advocates worry that drones mean more surveillance of more people in more places, even on private property. 

The FAA has the challenge of balancing legal constraints, public and air safety with economic opportunity. Their recommendations are expected by the end of the year. 


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  • 68_dodge_polara Aug 12, 2014

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    Well there you go, chalk one up for big brother!

    Actually I was thinking just about the exact opposite.

  • A cold, hard dose of Hans Aug 12, 2014

    Only government and government-approved private businesses should be allowed to operate drones. No private use.

  • jmcdow2792 Aug 12, 2014

    Liability? Environmental impact (birds)? Privacy? Property rights? Vandalism (to the drones)? Accuracy (if unmanned)? Cost (manned)? Criminal use? The list goes on and on.

  • Gene Parsons Aug 12, 2014
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    I have been flying drones (formally called Remote controlled aircraft) for about forty years. We are required by the flying clubs to carry a 1 million dollar liability insurance policy. We normally fly at flying fields so we do not disturb or create a hazard for surrounding houses or people. I have had every type of malfunction/failure, engine, aircraft, radio and pilot that a person can have. When people will start flying them to and from populated areas and having a few crashes causing personal or property damage followed by a few lawsuits, I think the cost will drive the market out. Except of course for the Law Enforcement agencies that can NOT be sued.

  • 68_dodge_polara Aug 12, 2014

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    As much as that sounds like fun they would know who did it and you would end up going to jail.

  • 68_dodge_polara Aug 12, 2014

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    Lazy way.

    Anyway, there are certainly legitimate uses for drones like say monitoring pipelines for leaks and such. I don't really have great concerns at what private industries might use them for my concerns have to do with what kind of surveillance they will be used for by our governments.

  • Zorg Aug 12, 2014

    If I see a drone flying above my home and I suspect it's looking in my windows, law enforcement or not) that's when I get out the 12 gauge.

  • miseem Aug 12, 2014

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    Right. Why do it the easy and efficient way.

  • 68_dodge_polara Aug 12, 2014

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    True we wouldn't want to have to walk that far or get mud on our SUV. Amurica!

  • John Booker Aug 12, 2014
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    If I'm buying land to develop, I don't plan on walking all 15-50 acres. The UAV is cheaper than a chartered helicopter.