August 01, 2014

Drones have been plastered all over the headlines lately - not just the military kind, but increasingly the type that might one day deliver packages to our doorsteps.

But before drones can bring us books, CDs, and paper towels, the FAA has to test them.

Living in a Test Area

The government has - or will soon - begin testing in Alaska, Nevada, Texas, North Dakota, Virginia, and upstate New York, areas that feature rural swaths of land and diverse terrain.

But residents in regions like upstate New York have concerns about the testing, says Ryan Delaney, a reporter for WRVO in Syracuse and part of the Innovation Trail project. Some are worried about privacy, as drones frequently have cameras attached.

Delaney also notes that “remotely piloted planes crash a lot more often. There was an Air Force drone that crashed here in upstate New York last winter because part of its navigation system couldn’t operate properly in the cold weather.”

The Upsides of Testing

For some in the test sites, there's the hope of becoming an economic epicenter for drones, a rural version of Silicon Valley. By being part of the early testing, they'll already be in on the ground floor.

Indeed, the drone industry may ultimately parallel the computer industry over time, evolving from big hulking devices used mainly by the government, to sleeker, more consumer-friendly tools. 

And there's a huge range of applications that companies want to test, from assessing how crops are faring to fighting forest fires, supporting search and rescue in remote areas, or aiding law enforcement.

Most commercially-available drones require someone to actually control the machines. But the next generation of drones will be pre-programmed with GPS and flight altitude information. The FAA's mandate is to figure out how these aircraft, lacking pilots, will interact with air traffic controllers and traditional aircrafts.

Amazon, drone delivery, Sci and Tech

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