NPR Reporter Larry Abramson has this story about tiny (aren't they adorable?!) drones up in your skies and mine.
LARRY ABRAMSON: Big military drones like the Predator and Global Hawk put remotely piloted vehicles on the map and in the headlines. But for sometime, ground forces have been shifting their focus to smaller vehicles, like the four and a half pound Raven. The Army has deployed over 5,000 Ravens.
Cliff Brent, product manager for small unmanned vehicles for the Army, says soldiers love being able to figure out their own uses for these gadgets.
CLIFF BRENT: Unpacked to launch, you're talking, you know, about five to six minutes. It has been used on IED emplacements to crackdown incoming fire.
ABRAMSON: Manufacturers of these smaller drones are seizing on that flexibility, as they prepare to sell unmanned vehicles in the U.S.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
ABRAMSON: Last week, thousands of UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] makers filled the Mandalay Bay Convention Center with their wares. They stood like giddy children around a little playground for drones. An area was fenced in with netting, so attendees could get a safe view of these remotely piloted craft in action.
This still unnamed copter system from Lockheed's Procerus division is sleek and black. It's four rotors let it maneuver and hover quietly for about an hour. But the real selling point, according to developer Todd Titensor, is that it has really good eyes.
TODD TITENSOR: It's also has got a very small sensor gimbal on it.
ABRAMSON: That gimbaled camera can automatically stay focused on a single object as the UAV zooms by. That makes it a lot easier to use for police, who might not have as much time to train as a military user. And Titensor says, this UAV has infrared red vision.
TITENSOR: The first market segments for us will be the first-responders types from police to search and rescue. People like that that have a need to also put an eye in the sky, day or night. And if someone is lost, for example, the IR camera is going to pick them up.
ABRAMSON: Soon, local agencies will be able to pick up a device like this one for under $50,000 - not cheap, but doable for bigger agencies. Many police are looking at these systems but admit they still have to figure out exactly how to use them, and how to fix them when they break.
A good source of advice will be early adopters like Mike Hutt of the U.S. Geological Survey. Based in Denver, Hutt has already been using UAVs to survey some of the Interior Departments 500 million acres of land. He's convinced, this is the future for land managers.
MIKE HUTT: I personally believe that we'll see more data being collected from UASs in the future, than with commercial satellite or aircraft operations.
ABRAMSON: The head of the FAA told the conference, he will be moving forward quickly to allow government and commercial users easier access to the skies. But UAV users face another challenge that could slow growth in this industry concerns about civil liberties. Many conference goers were livid about media coverage which they said focused only on potential spying by UAVs, not on their benefits.
From the Lockstep Rightwing Campus of Pepperdine University, we have yet more wisdom:
ABRAMSON: Law Professor Gregory McNeal, of Pepperdine University told the industry, you are not paranoid privacy advocates really are out to get you.
GREGORY MCNEAL: They're interested in stopping the development of your systems out of a misplaced fear of some potential government violation of privacy. And I'm hear to tell you also that they're much, much better than you at playing this game.
We're better at playing this game? We'd better be!...