Drones: What goes around, comes around

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

It’s not exactly like the future Ray Bradbury or Robert Heinlein might have imagined in the middle of the 20th century, but robots are taking on more and more tasks as the 21st century wears on.

It’s taken a while for U.S. regulators to catch up with the technology, but the FAA is slowly granting companies permission to use drones for delivery and more complex tasks.

Small unmanned aircraft are especially useful in the American west, where rugged terrain makes travel difficult or impossible and the ability search from the air is especially useful.

Drones are nothing new; the idea extends back as far as World War I, Marilyn Monroe was “discovered” through a photograph taken at the World War II target drone factory where she worked, and Londoners huddled in bomb shelters to escape Hitler’s V-1 drones.

Quantum advances in technology like GPS and electronic miniaturization and low cost made possible by mass production made drone technology explode as hobbyists adapted technology that had its roots in military contracts.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released a report Monday showing just how many uses state officials have found for the technology.

As recently as 2016, no state high transportation was using drones every day, probably because FAA regulations were slow in allowing such use. Today, 36 states have certified drone pilots on staff, and Rhode Island recently became the last state to purchase a drone.

They’re used in mountain states to monitor avalanche conditions. They’re great for inspecting bridges and roads in places like flood-ravaged northeast Nebraska, and can carry sophisticated cameras and thermal technology to detect cracks and potholes.

That same thermal technology can detect missing persons, sick cows and crops that are diseased or not receiving adequate water.

They’re also much cheaper and quieter than helicopters, the only technology with similar capabilities.

You’ll find few television shows, movies or commercials that haven’t used a drone for some shots, and they’re invaluable for news-gathering organizations.

Check out NTV’s drone coverage of Friday’s tornado damage near McCook here.

Of course, modern drones came into consciousness for most of us when they began being used in the Gulf War, especially after they were armed.

And, it was only a matter of time before those drones were aimed at us.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have used crude Iranian-supplied drones to attack Saudi airports and pipelines, and smaller consumer-type drones have been used to disrupt airport operations and mischief like spying on neighbors and delivering illegal drugs.

Like any new technology, it will take time to weed out abuses find ways for safe, legitimate use of drones and other robots Bradbury and Heinlein couldn’t have imagined.

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