North Carolina: Drone uses, questions are many

nc state

In the air, droning overhead, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) is increasing. Hobbyists, photographers and even news organizations have deployed the remote-controlled flying machines. Amazon has joked about using drones for doorstep delivery.

The fleet overhead has raised questions about technology, privacy and air space safety. So far, many of those are unresolved while the Federal Aviation Administration works out rules for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The only current clarity comes in a federal ban on the use of UAVs for commercial gain, but there are legal challenges to even that limit.

In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by state or local governments. The budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory last week set limits for drone use, but any state laws will eventually have to comply with FAA regulations.

At North Carolina State University, members of the Aerial Robotics Club design, build and navigate unmanned aerial vehicles without knowing how they’ll eventually use the skills they are practicing.

“It’s been a massive learning experience,” said student RJ Gritter. “UAVs have blown up in the market.”

Gritter’s team recently claimed first place in an international competition with a drone that can pinpoint targets for search missions and drop rescue supplies.

Kyle Snyder, of the NextGen Air Transportation Center at NC State, is working on ways to integrate drones into an efficient and updated national transportation network.

“There’s a lot of newness to it,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out how best to manage it, what are the real capabilities and who should have access, who can’t have access.”

That access will be key as drones become more common.

“In the image processing, in the manufacture, in the components, all of this has become more and more inexpensive,” said Dr. Larry Silverberg, associate head of NC State’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department.

Privacy advocates worry that drones mean more surveillance of more people in more places, even on private property.

The FAA has the challenge of balancing legal constraints, public and air safety with economic opportunity. Their recommendations are expected by the end of the year.

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UAV Enthusiasts: Drone Photography Is Not A Crime

Drone Lawsuit

For several drone photography enthusiasts, their own footage has been their best defense against spurious charges.

David Beesmer was arrested by a New York state trooper on Tuesday and charged with a felony — unlawful surveillance in the second degree — for recording aerial video footage of the Mid Hudson Medical Group building in Ulster, New York, which just opened last Monday.

Beesmer was in the area because he had taken his mother to a doctor’s appointment at the hospital. He posted on Facebook that he wanted to fly his aerial drone in the area because he was “so very proud of this facility and that someone has done something positive with the property that has been abandoned for many years.”

But since Beesmer was reportedly flying his $1,300 drone between 10 and 15 feet from the windows of examination rooms at the medical facility — close enough for patients and medical staff to notice it — his use of the equipment became an issue.


Justice Department Spends nearly $5M on Drones


WASHINGTON — The FBI has been using drones to support its law enforcement operations since 2006 and has spent more than $3 million on the unmanned aircraft, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said Thursday.

The disclosure came in a new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who revealed that the department also has awarded $1.26 million to at least seven local police departments and non-profit organization for drones.

In addition, the IG said another Justice Department component, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, plans to use drones to support future operations. To date, the ATF has spent almost $600,000, the IG report stated.

From 2004 to May 2013, the Justice Department spent almost $5 million on the unmanned aircraft.

In June, then-FBI….   more…

Texas Law Gets Tough on Public, Private Drone Use

AUSTIN, Texas September 14, 2013 (AP)
By WILL WEISSERT Associated Press
A hobbyist using a remote-control airplane mounted with a digital camera just happened to capture images last year of a Dallas creek running red with pig’s blood. It led to a nearby meatpacking plant being fined for illegal dumping and two of its leaders being indicted on water pollution charges.

Yet, a Texas law that took effect Sept. 1 tightened rules not on polluters but on taking such photographs, an effort to better protect private property from drone surveillance.

More than 40 state legislatures have debated the increasing presence of unmanned aircraft in civilian airspace, with most of the proposals focused on protecting people from overly intrusive surveillance by law enforcement.

But Texas’ law tips the scales in police favor — giving them broad freedoms to use drones during investigations and allowing them to bypass a required search warrant if they have suspicions of illegal activity — while also limiting use of small drones by ordinary residents.

“Texas is really the outlier,” said Allie Bohm    More…

UAV Operations in National Air Space Advance as Privacy Fight Heats Up

Significant progress has been made in integrating two classes of small, unmanned aircraft into the national air space (NAS), an area of considerable interest for GNSS companies whose products provide navigation and guidance for many of the unmanned systems.

Standards have been drafted for the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) weighing up to 55 pounds, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) have formally agreed to work together to help police departments and other government agencies quickly to make mini-drones — UAVs weighing less that 25 pounds — part of their operations.