The technology has been developing for decades, but only recently has begun coming to fruition. In the past several years, companies have taken their vehicles from the concept phase to the operational stage, and they are ready for the sales boom sure to start in 2015.
“When we came to this convention years ago, it was all little pieces of the systems. Each booth had a little widget, but you couldn’t buy a product right off the shelf. Today, you see complete systems,” said William H. Semke, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of North Dakota who partners with the school’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research.
But with the new capabilities come fears about the loss of personal privacy, a concern that has driven a half-dozen pieces of legislation on Capitol Hill to limit what drones can do and where they can operate.
Military and law-enforcement officials acknowledge that there must be restrictions on unmanned aerial craft but say they will be reined in by current privacy laws.
“I understand the concerns, but the laws are already in place,” Mr. Schwarzbach said. “Will a police officer somewhere try and put [a drone] in someone’s backyard to look in their window and make an arrest? Probably. Will it get thrown out of court? Yes.”
Industry leaders also say the public’s skepticism toward drones will fade when they begin to see their benefits and when they are reminded that man, not machine, is still in command.
The public “sees what comes from Hollywood. They see ‘Terminator.’ They see ‘Eagle Eye.’ They probably don’t understand that the computers are not making the decisions,” Maj. Wuennenberg said. “The pilot on the ground is still making those decisions.”
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Ben Wolfgang is a national reporter for The Washington Times. Before coming to the Times, he spent four years as a political reporter in Pennsylvania. His focus is on education and science policy. Ben lives in southeast D.C. and has played guitar in several bands while still in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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