What’s New in the Sky?

Here in the south when we go outside in the summertime we have to put up with a number of things. The heat and humidity are a force to be reckoned with and are often the topic of conversation. Then if you spend any time at all outside you start hearing the buzz of the many insects. Some of those insects can be very annoying. A new buzzing sound may soon join the insect chorus. It’s the sound of unmanned aerial systems (UAVs).

Sometimes referred to as drones, they are gaining popularity here in the United States. Not necessarily new, the convergence of different technologies has produced units that are more than just remote controlled aircraft. The big attraction is being able to capture airborne video and still images. That ability is also one of the biggest issues related to UAVs.

The loss of privacy is foremost on the minds of many. There have been reports of UAVs flying over homes and generally being a nuisance. States such as Tennessee have passed legislation to protect the privacy of an individual on their property. The Federal Aviation Administration rules related to their operation are vague and will probably be tightened up this fall. The National Park Service has banned their use on areas they manage because they were becoming a problem at highly visited sites.

With that said, many sectors such as agriculture, construction, and landscaping are embracing this technology because it offers the ability to see their work areas in a whole new way. For example, flying over fields allows a farmer to see if an area has not been irrigated or if an invasive plant has started to grow among the crops. Another example would be where a landscaper takes an aerial photo of a property and uses that image to illustrate to the landowner the work to be done.

Like other technologies, the good or the bad lies in how the operator uses it. Interpreters could make use of UAVs to show our visitors something they might not ordinarily be able to see. They also have utility for things such as search and rescue. Recently a Wisconsin man who suffers from dementia was quickly found alive in a field by a UAV after traditional methods could not locate him after a couple of days.

The time we are in now with UAVs reminds me of the time before computers or the Internet were widely used. We tried to imagine what they would be good for and how they would change our lives. Some will say that we would still be better off without certain technologies. That may be true to some extent. But hopefully, we will use the wisdom gained from the past to guide us into a useful future for UAVs.

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