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FAA to propose policy for commercial use of drones

US: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), US, will propose new rules for the use of small drones in January, 2012, a first step toward clearing the way for police departments, farmers and others to employ the drone technology, Los Angeles Times reported.
Farmers in Japan already use small drones to automatically spray their crops with pesticides and more recently safety inspectors used them at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Archaeologists in Russia are using small drones and their infrared cameras to construct a 3-D model of ancient burial mounds. Officials in Tampa Bay, Florida, want to use them for security surveillance during Republican National Convention.
But the FAA said that there are technical issues to be addressed before they’re introduced in civil airspace. Among them is how to respond if a communication link is lost with a drone — such as when it falls out of the sky, takes a nose dive into a backyard pool or crashes through someone’s roof.
The agency issued 266 active testing permits for civilian drone applications but hasn’t permitted drones in national airspace on a wide scale out of concern that the pilotless craft don’t have an adequate “detect, sense and avoid” technology to prevent midair collisions. Other concerns include privacy — imagine a camera-equipped drone buzzing above your backyard pool party — and the creative ways in which criminals and terrorists might use the machines.
“By definition, small drones are easy to conceal and fly without getting a lot of attention,” said John Villasenor, a UCLA professor and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation. “Bad guys know this.”
The aerospace industry insists these concerns can be addressed. It also believes that the good guys — the nation’s law enforcement agencies — are probably the biggest commercial market for domestic drones, at least initially.
The new drone weighs 51/2 pounds, fits in the trunk of a car and is controlled remotely by a tablet computer. Recently, AeroVironment unveiled its miniature remote-controlled drone, Qube, at the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago. “This is a tool that many law enforcement agencies never imagined they could have,” said Steven Gitlin, a company executive. Gitlin said a small Qube, by comparison, would cost “slightly more than the price of a police cruiser,” or about USD 40,000.
Source: Los Angeles Times