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Drones get the drop on us

Adriene Hill Feb 7, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Coming soon to the skies near you? Drones — unmanned, remotely piloted airplanes. Military, commercial and privately owned. The big aviation bill the House and Senate passed this week said the government has to open up all the skies to unmanned aircraft within the next four years.

Marketplace’s Adriene Hill has more.

Adriene Hill: Imagine you’re walking. It’s spring. It’s the future.

Woman: Oh honey, look at that hummingbird.

Man: But it looks odd. Is that a camera?

Yes my friends, it is a camera. It’s a hummingbird-sized unmanned aircraft system, a UAS, a drone.

Woman and man scream

Now calm down, it’s not gonna blast you.

But it just might be taking your picture.

Gretchen West: UAS were really created for specific missions. They are very good at collecting information and data.

Gretchen West is the executive V.P. of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (yup, the drone industry has a trade organization). She says drones come in all sizes, from hummingbird to 737. And there’s all sorts of people who want them. Cops want them, to track bad guys.

West: Real estate is one good example. You know a real estate agent could use this for aerial photography.

Gas companies want them to monitor pipelines; insurance agents, farmers. It’s easy to imagine a sky full of these things — watching us.

Jay Stanley: It is freaky.

Jay Stanley is with the A.C.L.U. He says the group is OK with some uses of drones.

Stanley: And we have no problem with the industry making money off drones. But we think before they become as common as swallows in the air over our skies, we need to put some good privacy protections in place.

Assuming the bill becomes law, the Federal Aviation Administration has to figure out where they can fly and who can fly them. The skies will open September 2015.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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