While drones have been deployed in many military actions, domestic drone deployment in the United States faces opposition on several fronts. Many in the public view drones as overly invasive or machines of war, as demonstrated by the legislative acts of many states, capped off by Seattles recent decision to scrap the police departments drone program.
Many in the public safety community argue that privacy concerns over drones may be keeping the public from seeing the true potential the unmanned aircraft could offer, especially in emergency management and response.
Law enforcement could use drones to gain better situational awareness and keep officers and civilians safe during dangerous operations like drug busts or hostage situations. Firefighters could use them to scout wildfires, or identify hidden hot spots in structure fires. Rescue teams could save trapped or missing people in areas that helicopters can’t reach. In the right hands, drones could make the public safer.
Commercial drones on the market today are much easier to control than those available just a few years ago. If a drone pilot takes his hands off the controls, GPS and altitude positioning allow the aircraft to simply hover in place until the pilot is ready to continue. This technological progress is thanks to engineers and researchers like Mary Cummings, an associate professor at MIT who focuses much of her research on drone control architectures.
Cummings thinks that it is just these kinds of emergency response scenarios that might help change public perceptions about drone use. We are going to have the next Hurricane Katrina, the next Hurricane Sandy, she explained. We are going to start seeing unmanned vehicles bringing in badly needed supplies and … I think as soon as we do that, it is going to be amazing the change we see in people. People just see UAVs as bad. I think there is a change coming.
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