Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are aircraft that can be controlled remotely by a pilot or can fly autonomously based on preprogrammed plans or automation systems. A large number of industries and users are adopting this technology, including military, government, commercial, and recreational users.
As the technology advances, these aircraft are becoming more common and affordable, giving rise to debates that weigh their benefits against new ethical and legal concerns.
Pro: Quality Aerial Imaging
Drones can take high-quality aerial photographs and video, and collect vast amounts of imaging data. These high-resolution data can be used to create 3-D maps and interactive 3-D models, which have many beneficial uses. For example, 3-D mapping of disaster areas can enable rescue teams to be better prepared before entering hazardous situations.
Since unmanned aerial vehicles are equipped with GPS, they can be programed and maneuvered accurately to precise locations. This is especially helpful in precision agriculture, in which UAVs are used for a variety of farming needs such as spraying fertilizer and insecticide, identifying weed infestations, and monitoring crop health. The precision of UAVs saves famers both time and cost.
Pro: Easily Deployable
With advances in control technology, most drones can be operated by users with relatively minimal experience. Combined with the relative low cost of most models, this has led to drones becoming accessible to a wide range of operators. UAVs also have a greater range of movement than manned aircraft, being able to fly lower and in more directions, allowing them to easily navigate traditionally hard-to-access areas.
With the appropriate license, operators can use unmanned aerial vehicles to provide security and surveillance to private companies, sporting events, public gatherings and venues. Drones can also gather valuable data during and after natural disasters to aid in security and recovery efforts.
Con: Uncertainty in Legislation
Since the widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles is relatively new, legislation is still catching up. The Federal Aviation Administration has established certain rules for small, unmanned aircraft that apply to commercial and recreational use, but there are still ambiguities. Questions include how best to determine airspace property rights and protect landowners from aerial trespassing. Further adding to the confusion are conflicts between federal regulations and some state and local laws.
Safety is a primary concern when dealing with unmanned aerial vehicles. To avoid mid-air collisions, UAVs need to be programmed with “sense and avoid” capabilities – being able to detect a potential collision and maneuver to safety – that match those of manned aircraft pilots. In the event of system failures, ground impact is another serious danger, especially when drones are used near large crowds.
One of the most common concerns from the public about UAVs is privacy. Drones can collect data and images without drawing attention, leading many Americans to fear their Fourth Amendment rights of privacy may be in jeopardy if government entities were to use drones to monitor the public. The way in which the Fourth Amendment is interpreted, and the efforts of privacy rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, will have a marked influence on how this issue of privacy is regulated.
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