WASHINGTON (AP) —
It's a good bet that in the not-so-distant future aerial drones will be part of Americans' everyday lives, performing countless useful functions.
A far cry from the killing machines whose missiles incinerate terrorists, these generally small, unmanned aircraft will help farmers more precisely apply water and pesticides to crops, saving money and reducing environmental impacts. They'll help police departments find missing people, reconstruct traffic accidents and act as lookouts for SWAT teams. They'll alert authorities to people stranded on rooftops by hurricanes and monitor evacuation flows.
The FAA estimates that within five years of gaining broader access about 7,500 civilian drones will be in use.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., recently drew attention to the domestic use of drones when he staged a Senate filibuster, demanding to know whether the president has authority to use weaponized drones to kill Americans on American soil. The White House said no, if the person isn't engaged in combat. But industry officials worry that the episode could temporarily set back civilian drone use.
"The opposition has become very loud," said Gitlin of AeroVironment, "but we are confident that over time the benefits of these solutions (drones) are going to far outweigh the concerns, and they'll become part of normal life in the future."
Associated Press writer Michael Felberbaum in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.
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