LOS ANGELES -- Drone aircraft, best known for
their role in hunting and destroying terrorist hide-outs in Afghanistan,
may soon be coming to the skies near you.
Police agencies want
drones for air support to spot runaway criminals. Utility companies
believe they can help monitor oil, gas and water pipelines. Farmers
think drones could aid in spraying their crops with pesticides.
going to happen," said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation at
the Aerospace Industries Association. "Now it's about figuring out how
to safely assimilate the technology into national airspace."
That's the job of the Federal Aviation
Administration, which plans to propose new rules for the use of small
drones in January, a first step toward integrating robotic aircraft into
the nation's skyways.
Police departments in Texas, Florida and Minnesota have expressed interest in the technology's potential to spot runaway criminals on rooftops or to track them at night by using the robotic aircraft's heat-seeking cameras.
"Most Americans still see drone aircraft in the realm of science fiction," said Peter W. Singer, author of "Wired for War," a book about robotic warfare. "But the technology is here. And it isn't going away. It will increasingly play a role in our lives. The real question is: How do we deal with it?"
"This is a tool that many law enforcement agencies never imagined they could have," said Steven Gitlin, a company executive.