Six states have won a competitive bid put forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the location of research and testing facilities for unmanned aerial systems, or as most people around the world know them, drones. Twenty-four states filed 25 proposals to bring the controversial new industry to their constituents. Officials in these states say the industry could bring in the much-needed federal money for what is being seen as the next “economic boom.”
The winners of the bid–Virginia, Texas, North Dakota, New York, Nevada, and Alaska–are partnering with schools in Maryland and New Jersey to design and operate “public” facilities for the testing and research of drones.
Among the six winners, North Dakota has been the most eager to bring the aerial technology to their state, with millions of dollars being invested in the foundation of a budding drone industry.
Bob Beckland, director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, is in charge of the state money allocated for the three-year deal with the FAA. He says that the incoming drone industry could bring jobs and much needed revenue to the state.
Still, opponents of the new measure say that the increase in domestic drone use should worry citizens who value their privacy. Lawmakers like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), say that the use of unmanned drones for surveillance, or even commercial purposes, directly violates a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. Coupled with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Paul has pushed Congress to implement stronger privacy rules for the operation of drones on U.S. soil.
Proponents of the growing drone industry see the move as an innovation for large-scale producers, who can ship their products within minutes of its sale. Internet sale giants like Amazon have invested millions in the idea, saying that Amazon drones that could deliver a consumer their product within 30 minutes of the purchase time.
The FAA is currently working out “operational guidelines” that will allow for the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The proposed regulations are set to be in place by 2015.
Fortunately for the U.S. consumer, these drones won’t be equipped with hellfire missiles like those used in Afghanistan. Instead, observers say they will be equipped with mail-carrying baskets and potentially lifesaving products that could be dispatched in minutes to a location if needed.
Others say that unmanned drones, while unarmed, could still be just as dangerous as any weaponized aircraft. Imagine the potential damage of a 20-pound flying robot, carrying any number of devices, crash landing onto your roof–or perhaps your head?
Officials in the industry say FAA guidelines will help to reduce the potential for malfunctioning or misguided drones.
Despite such worries, states are clamoring over projected job numbers and the economic impact of such an industry. Nevada, one of the hardest hit states in the recession, has predicted the creation of thousands of jobs, as well $2.5 billion in revenue from the industry.
Still, opponents say that the economic gain comes at the great expense of the individual’s liberty and privacy. Senator Rand Paul has put a bill before Congress which would prevent drones from monitoring citizens without a warrant. Yet other observers say that, even with such laws in place, the potential for manipulation of these unmanned aircraft is far too great.
by John Amaruso