Scott: Prepare to get your geek on! Now, you have probably heard a lot about the use of them by the U.S. military – drones. Those unmanned aircraft. Well, the use of the specialized tech is about to reach a whole new level with companies looking to get in on the drone action. Maggie Rulli has more.
Maggie: Some say the sky is the limit.
Expert: It is beyond anything we could imagine.
Maggie: Well, imagine this: getting a pizza or book sent to your home by a drone. An aircraft controlled remotely by a computer.
Jeff Bezos: We can do half-hour delivery. So in urban areas, it could actually cover very significant portions of the population.
Maggie: Or using the unmanned aircraft to help a farm.
Expert: Check their cattle, check their property. They can use these drones, these helicopters, for precision agriculture.
Maggie: Or sell houses.
Expert: You could see the house from a different perspective.
Maggie: Even Facebook plans on getting into the action. They hope to launch drones that would provide internet access across the globe.
The idea of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, for commercial purposes has many businesses buzzing with excitement.
Who is going to be behind these aircrafts?
Expert: We have very, very many inquiries from manufacturers and from technology developers who want to come to our airspace and test their products.
Expert: The whole point of drones is that we can do stuff faster, better, cheaper.
Maggie: Across the country, UAVs are taking flight and creating limitless opportunities while trying to leave behind the negative stereotypes.
Jeff Hauser: Well, we try to get away from the drone word. Drone kind of gives you bad connotations of military, dropping bombs, spying.
Maggie: For years, unmanned aircrafts, often called drones, have been used by the U.S. government to conduct special military operations all over the world. Over 2,000 terrorists, including many high-ranking officials belonging to the extremist group al-Qaeda have been killed by American drone strikes since 1998. But innocent civilians have also been killed, which has angered many people around the world and sparked protests by some to try to bring an end to the American drone program.
But it seems the UAV may soon be flying through skies near you, not as a weapon of war but as a tool for businesses. The Federal Aviation Administration believes that by 2020, there could be as many 30,000 drones flying through the nation’s skies.
Expert: There is nothing new about these aircraft, but there is something very new about their commercial use in the airspace of the United States.
Maggie: But before you can get that pizza delivered, the FAA has to make sure that UAVs are safe, not only for the people in the air, but for people on the ground as well. Right now, the agency has banned all commercial drone use until at least 2015 while they figure out how to regulate them. But they are allowing testing of drones for research in six states around the country.
Martin Hass: It can stay in the air for like 10 – 12 hours.
Maggie: Deep in one of the most remote parts of South Texas, right off the Gulf of Mexico, a team of researchers is working to find a way to integrate drones into U.S. airspace.
So why did the FAA choose Texas as a place for drone research? Well, for one thing, there is space. Lots and lots of space!
Over 6,100 square miles of airspace, which is perfect for testing larger drones like this 85-pound RS-16, which they hope will one day help detect oil spills, wildfire hotspots, monitor hurricanes, or simply count cattle on huge Texas ranches like this one.
Martin: It’s amazing the technology that goes into it.
Maggie: Martin Hass is a student at Texas A&M, Corpus Christi who is helping conduct the research.
Martin: You have the autopilot that’s controlling the plane. You have the feed from the tail camera that shows up in the command station that’s also projected to another command station.
Maggie: But many businesses feel the FAA is not moving fast enough and have already begun flying their own drones without approval. Without proper safety precautions in place, people are placed at a much higher risk of injury.
Martin: Oh! That just hit a dude in the face!
Maggie: Until they can come up with guidelines on how to safely regulate them, the fate of commercial drones will remain…well, up in the air.
Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.
Scott: The drone industry is getting set to skyrocket. And tomorrow, Maggie shows us how the next generation of developers will be young people just like you.