As Popularity Of Drones Increase, So Do Worries...And Safeguards

Flickr.com photo by ARS Electronica.
Flickr.com photo by ARS Electronica.
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By ideastream’s Brian Bull

After Thanksgiving comes another annual observance….the holiday shopping frenzy.  And among the top items on wish lists this year are unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones.

Forbes.com says the commercial drone market will generate more than $1 billion in the U.S. this year, while the FAA predicts a million Americans will find the remotely-operated machines under their Christmas tree next month…fueling fears that inexperienced or careless hobbyists will fly them into active airspace, and into possible collisions with jets and helicopters.

Jerry Ivancic owns Strongsville Hobby.  His shop stocks 50 different drones, costing from $20 to $1500.  He says they educate customers before they leave with a drone.

“Using common sense,” begins Ivancic. “And staying in safe areas. Staying away from highways.  Flying within certain distances of schools, and hospitals and prisons.

“Because you do not want these to interfere with anybody’s well-being or health. Not harming or disrupting anything, is exactly what we stress when we’re talking to our customers.”

Ivancic says drone operators need a permit if using them for business purposes, while hobbyists need to be aware of laws and restrictions outlined by the FAA and local municipalities.

Meanwhile, officials at NASA Glenn are helping develop a system help prevent mid-air collisions between drones and manned aircraft.

Jim Griner works with NASA Glenn’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems project.  He shows off a plane with a prototype radio system being developed with NASA Armstrong in California, as well as tech companies Honeywell and Rockwell Collins.  

“It’s mainly a system for the unmanned aircraft to send information about other aircraft around it through our communications link that we’ve developed here and utilize that link to send that target information to the ground.”

…. where the drone’s operator is based, hundreds - even thousands- of miles away. The drone pilot can then maneuver the unmanned craft out of harm’s way.

Researchers are now working on the fifth and final prototype of the system, which they expect to have ready for FAA review in 2017.

Until then, pilots are advised to be wary of drones.  Chopper pilot T.J. Bencin runs a helicopter business that flies out of Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport. He had an in-air close call with a drone last summer, near the airfield.

“Literally just passed off my last side, 75, 100 yards,” recalls Bencin. “If that would’ve contacted the main rotor system, or the tail rotor system…had it gone through the windshield….it would’ve been ugly.  It would’ve been very bad.”

The FAA says commercial pilots have reported more than 650 sightings of drones through early August, nearly three times the amount reported last year.  And it’s estimated at least 700,000 Americans own drones, with that number expected to increase by a million after the holiday retail season wraps up.

 

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