UAVs: Progress Drones Along, Speedily

By March 24, 2007Innovation

USA Today carried a front-page story Friday on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, being used to guard U.S. airports against terrorists targeting commercial aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles. “Project Chloe” is a pilot (ha, ha) project of the Department of Homeland Defense and U.S. military. (More on the project here at Wired.)

Also this week, border agents arrested a man wanted on child sex abuse charges after tracking him and six other illegal aliens along the Arizona-Mexico border with an unmanned aircraft. About 400 pounds of marijuana were also seized.

In North Dakota, the U.S. Border Patrol will begin drone-based patrols of the northern border this fall, with UAVs being piloted from as far away as Bakersfield, Calif.

Seems a trend, non-military uses being found for technology developed for the nation’s defense. Indeed. The April Popular Mechanics has a well-researched and illustrated article about new applications for the UAVs. The list of users includes NOAA, NASA, the Forest Service, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and on and on. Popular Mechanics:

You probably haven’t yet seen a robot plane overhead. But more are flying all the time, and their promise is such that, like computers, they could move beyond commonplace to ubiquitous. “Technology is not the limitation,” says Rich O’Lear, vice president for Unmanned Aerial Systems at Lockheed Martin. “It’s the ability of people to conceive of ways to use the technology.”

Our point? It’s pretty darn cool, that’s what, the wider use of advanced technology developed by manufacters like Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter and General Atomics. These innovations and applications are possible because U.S. manufacturers invest billions in research and development, hiring the best engineers, scientists and computer professional in the world.

The United States must foster these investments through wise public policies, captured in the “Innovation Agenda,” the NAM and 300 other organizations recently signed. The agenda calls for a permanent, strengthened R&D tax credit, additional funding for basic R&D, increased funding to promote student achievement in math and science, and reforms to the U.S. visa system to welcome more highly educated foreign workers. It all ties together — education, innovation, investment and immigration, with the end result being a safer America.