Unmanned airplanes are now routinely used by armed forces. But can they also be useful in our daily lives? Rafe Needleman thinks so and wrote an article about these civilian usages for Business 2.0, "Your Robotic Eye in the Sky."
I talked with the CEOs of two interesting companies that are developing civil unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs. At the moment, both are subsisting on government research grants, but they are also working to bring their technology to civil airspace.
The Insitu Group, which makes long-range UAVs, is currently marketing its Seascan for several applications, like search and rescue, harbor patrol, pipeline reconnaissance, and forest-fire monitoring. My favorite pitch is for replacing the spotting helicopters that fishing boats use to track schools of tuna in the open ocean.
Here is a picture from the Seascan.
A smaller, shorter-range aircraft is being produced by MLB. The company's Bat, like the Seascan, can run completely autonomously: Operators program in the locations of waypoints and items to be photographed or videotaped.
This is a squad of MLB bats.
Insitu wants to sell the planes while MLB wants to sell reconnaissance services to the police or TV stations.
So when will we see these 35-pound planes circling the skies of our cities? Not anytime soon: unmanned flights are currently forbidden. Even if these companies are working with the Federal Aviation Administration to lift this interdiction, the situation will not change overnight.
Please read Needleman's article for more information about the Insitu Group and MLB.
Source: Rafe Needleman, Business 2.0, April 28, 2003
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