The U.S. government expects domestic drone deployment to reach a volume of 30,000 within the next twenty years. Law enforcement is the most talked about reason for using drones, but there are many beneficial and peaceful reasons for their deployment. Drones are useful for everything from monitoring crops, wildlife and weather to catching western wildfires before they get out of control. These endeavors might not be as profitable to the drone industry, but they must not be ignored or hampered. According to a Feb. 7 article in the UK Guardian, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) is an example of beneficial, non-military drone deployment. The WWF plans to deploy more drones to monitor such varied and widespread wildlife issues as orangutan populations in Sumatra and animal poaching in African nations.
A Feb.16 CBS News article reports that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will establish six test sites where applicants can expand knowledge and help to develop controls and policies for domestic drone usage. However, public resistance to law enforcement purposes draws all of the attention. The public should know whether there would be room for scientists and researchers at the test sites.
An Aug. 20, 2012 article by The Weather Channel described how widely varied styles of unmanned aircraft are used to monitor the environment. “Ranging in size from less than a pound to more than 20 tons, drones have been used for firefighting, road patrols, hurricane tracking and other jobs too dull, dirty or dangerous for piloted craft.”
Drones fly closer to the land than satellites and are cheaper than ground level observation missions are. They are also safer than piloted aircraft, especially in isolated areas or during storms.
There is much work to do in evaluating drone deployments for environmental and conservation purposes. Drones are capable of carrying more advanced sensors ever before. Advanced imaging devices and cameras can identify pollution and crop damage. Specialized tools can collect water samples and essential storm data. Power companies can monitor power lines and identify natural threats to the power grid. Transportation and planning departments can study human traffic patterns.
Forest fires, pollution and water quality are major concerns in the western United States. Drones can monitor vast tracts of land that become more vulnerable every year. Various drone styles, sensors, tools and cameras allow scientists and agencies to predict flooding, catch oil spills and see changes in large animal and plant populations.
Right now, the focus is on handing highly profitable military grade spying and surveillance technology to law enforcement agencies. That focus will ensure that law enforcement is adequately commanded, controlled, trained and regulated. However, beneficial uses for domestic drone technology must not be ignored or set aside as the nation sets out to regulate existing and future drone explosions.