The Federal Aviation Administration predicts 30,000 or more domestic drones could be buzzing around U.S. skies in the next few years.
It has already approved domestic drone use by 81 agencies, including schools, police departments and the Department of Homeland Security, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Currently, the FAA is drawing up regulations for when and how drones can be used in civilian airspace. The rules are expected out in 2015, and private drones should not be freed to fly until they are.
Drones and the privacy issues they raise are disconcerting to some, but they also could have many beneficial uses that don’t involve monitoring people.
In addition to being deployed for search and rescue operations or to offer a close-up overhead perspective to those fighting wildfires or assisting with natural disasters, they are expected to be widely used in agriculture to monitor crops for growth and diseases or in industry to check pipelines and other remote installations. Using drones to monitor severe weather could mean more notice and saving lives.
While the unleashing of drones for widespread civilian use raises serious privacy issues, it also signals opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses. The impact on the U.S. economy could be as much as $90 billion and 100,000 new jobs by 2025.
And New Mexico has a leg up on the competition. It has been a major player in the development of military drones. And since 2008, New Mexico State University has operated the only FAA-certified flight test center for unmanned aircraft systems. But competition is expected to step up.
The U.S. is on the cusp of another life-altering technological revolution that will require rules to protect Americans’ privacy. But the clock cannot be turned back – the genie left the bottle with Google map.
New Mexico should take advantage of its status as a leader in the brave new world of unmanned aerial vehicles, aka UAVs or drones.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.