First In Flight

North Carolina may be taking our “First in Flight” motto, which appears on license plates to commemorate the Wright brothers’ invention of manned flight in Kitty Hawk, to the next level.

That would be the unmanned level of flight, as in drone aircraft.

While this blog's companion story, Eyes in the Skies, looks at how Wake Forest University scientists are using drones, they aren't the only game in town. North Carolina State University’s NextGen Air Transportation Center is already flying drone aircraft at three locations in the state. The Center’s director, Kyle Snyder is working on creating an indoor flight center in Raleigh.

In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration, which has been tasked by Congress to create regulations for drone aircraft, is expected to call for the creation of several Unmanned Air Systems Centers of Excellence. The Centers would focus on training drone operators and the various applications of drone technology.

Snyder believes that because of NC State’s well respected engineering and agriculture programs, and because it is already a research hub for renewable energy and semiconductor research, the university is well positioned to land one of the FAA’s research centers.

State lawmakers are also ahead of the curve when it comes to drones, and the legal issues that arise with their use.

A House panel has been studying the privacy, security and safety concerns surrounding drone aircraft. Legislators weighed those concerns against the benefits offered by drones to law enforcement and industry as well as the prospects of a drone industry being built across the state.

The result of all that study is a draft bill that prohibits anyone or any state agency from using a drone for surveillance of a person, their home or their business or farm without written permission. It also makes it illegal to use a drone to take a photo of a person for wide dissemination without permission. There is an exception in the proposed rules for the media’s use of drones in covering news.

The proposed rules allow state and local law enforcement to get a search warrant to use a drone in surveillance. The bill being considered also allows authorities to use drones to counter a terrorist attack, to prevent what is being called “imminent danger” and for search and rescue operations.

And just in case you wondered, the regulations say drones can’t be used in hunting or fishing.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!


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