Military drones are getting lots of attention. Surely there must be some positive civilian uses for remotely piloted aircraft? (More)

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I am making my own list of possible civilian uses. I see this exercise as similar to all the technology that we found new uses for that was developed by NASA for the space program.

I am a summer camp host on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Canoeists and hikers sometimes get injured or lost in the wilderness. Imagine if we had standardized colored warning flags and could send a drone on a flyover to 1) see where they were located and 2) see what kind of help they needed. Rescues would be much more direct and help might arrive sooner. Most of this area does not have cell phone coverage.

Imagine also that drones could be used to watch for wild fires that skip away from the main fire and represent a threat. Now helicopters and airplanes perform this task. A GPS drone with video would be much less expensive and perhaps could fly in more kinds of weather.

Others have also asked this question.

In January, the Los Angeles Police Department had to warn real estate agents not to use images of properties taken from a remotely controlled aircraft.

During the Occupy movement in New York City last November, reporter Tim Pool obtained a bird’s-eye view of police action in Zuccotti Park from a customized two-foot-wide drone flying overhead. The camera-equipped device streamed live video to the journalist’s smartphone, which relayed the footage to a public Internet stream.

Golf course operators are another potential customer. For instance, UNL’s PGA Golf Management Program is interested in using UAVs to monitor moisture distribution on fairways, according to Waite. “A little drone could fly over and be taking pictures of the ground — and maybe they’re multi-spectral images, so you can get an idea of how much soil moisture is in the ground and the plants themselves,” he said. “By knowing this, they would know that we only need to water this part of the fifth fairway; we don’t need to water the whole thing.”

I’m sure there are more unexplored uses. Spraying for mosquitoes, spraying crops, delivering the Saturday mail…

I have mixed feeling about military drones but I am really quite engaged with the civilian possibilities.