More drones are coming to monitor America’s oil pipelines, farms, and construction sites. This morning, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave rare permission to use unmanned flying vehicles to several corporations that want to use drones for commercial profit.
The companies are geoservices provider Trimble (which has extensive ties to the world of industrial agriculture and logistics), VDOS (which specializes in monitoring of offshore oil rigs), and architecture/engineering firms Clayco and Woolpert. All four companies can now use camera- and sensor-equipped drones weighing less than 55 pounds as long as they are flown within the operator’s line of sight.
Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx added in a statement that “Unmanned aircraft offer a tremendous opportunity to spur innovation and economic activity by enabling many businesses to develop better products and services for their customers and the American public. We want to foster commercial uses of this exciting technology while taking a responsible approach to the safety of America’s airspace.”
Because drones first came into the public eye as military weapons during America’s foreign wars and because of poorly executed PR moves such as a TGI Friday’s drone accidentally slicing off part of a customer’s nose, the general public has been understandably apprehensive about the use of non-weaponized drones for commercial purposes. At the same time, Congress has been subject to heavy lobbying by industries such as agriculture, the entertainment industry, and the energy sector, all of whom stand to save vast amounts of money by using UAVs as a form of inexpensive aerial monitoring. In a letter to the FAA on Sunday, Amazon warned that it would move its drone research efforts abroad if the agency did not relax its drone regulations.