Drones have become fairly commonplace in the war in Afghanistan. They can fly for up to 30 hours, they can be operated without putting human pilots at risk, and they’re cheaper than real planes. More and more, we’re seeing them used for non-military purposes. The Global Hawk has been used to monitor drug trafficking along the U.S.-Mexican border, that was reported earlier this week. It’s also been used after the quake in Haiti to survey damage.
We talk to Alfredo Ramirez from Northrup Grumman. He’s the director and chief engineer for Global Hawk. He fills us in on the optical and infrared photographic capabilities of the aircraft, which is flying at 60,000 feet (nearly twice as high as a commercial airliner usually flies). Ramirez says the plan can be used in search and rescue efforts as well as to assess precisely what damage has been done to roads and buildings.
We also talk to Missy Cummings from MIT. She was involved with analyzing data from Global Hawks that flew over Haiti after the damage there. She says to get ready for a future that includes a lot more drones being used in non-military situations. Monitoring crops, checking on wildlife, analyzing pollution levels. In fact, she’s confident that within a few years, we’ll be seeing FedEx and UPS packages delivered by drone aircraft.
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