It was only a matter of time before somebody said, “Well, those drones work great in war zones – when they’re not shooting at innocent bystanders – so why aren’t we using them to do stuff here?” That’s what the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was asked this week, mostly by civilian scientists who think they would make their experiments really wicked cool. Of course, if that was used as a justification for transportation policy every time, we’d probably have dedicated skateboarding lanes.
The drones and remote-controlled unmanned aircraft (which we will shorthand to D&RA) have their advantages. They’re cheap, they’re mostly effective, and they can’t talk back and refuse to do dirty and/or dangerous jobs. Among their suggested uses:
Tornado researchers want to send them into storms to gather data. Energy companies want to use them to monitor pipelines. State police hope to send them up to capture images of speeding cars’ license plates. Local police envision using them to track fleeing suspects.
Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, people are slamming City Hall for approving the funding to get the police a helicopter. One helicopter. We’re so advanced.
Assuming the remote-controlled kind outnumbered the pre-programmed kind, the use of D&RA could create a few extra computer science jobs here and there, although you’d likely have to be damn smart to get them. It might provide a boost to manufacturing as well. It might even sway the best college math grads away from finance – always a plus for an economy that prides itself on innovation.
But before we get into a bright rosy future of planes of varying sizes that nobody can hijack, here are a few very important considerations that are likely to impede the progress of D&RA:
- use (how widespread are the benefits?)
- space (same level as regular aircraft?)
- environment (record on emissions?)
- privacy (how much can they see?)
- cost-effectiveness (do they have it?)
- noise (better or worse than vuvuzelas?)
A high-school classmate – who, coincidentally, now studies aerospace engineering – once said he hates politicians because they don’t know science. Kind of a blanket statement, although I can’t think of a contrasting example right now. But for them not to do this with D&RA would be shameful; it at least merits the research. Hopefully they’ll find it in them to approve the funding for that. (Compared to a helicopter. A fucking helicopter.)