The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sometimes referred to as “drones,” has been the focus of increased recent international attention. It also has captured attention in the Oregon Capitol with the introduction of House Bill 2710 and Senate Bill 524, which would set restrictions on the use of UAVs by law enforcement agencies, and Senate Bill 71, which would regulate the use of drones by private individuals and public agencies.

Any legislative or public review of the use of UAVs should include a complete understanding that these aerial systems also have many domestic uses that are practical and benign, and should be embraced for their potential to save money and lives.

There’s not much that UAVs can do that a pilot in a small plane cannot do, but they can do it more safely and at much lower cost. UAVs can monitor and help manage wildfires, or support a search and rescue mission. They can help forest product industries plant trees. They can monitor wildlife, improve irrigation, detect crop disease outbreaks and gauge environmental health.

UAVs are an emerging national industry that Oregon can help lead.

Under a mandate from Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration will establish several test sites for UAVs by 2015. Our state offers a unique combination of research excellence, varied terrain, relevant industry and local applications in agriculture and forestry.

Oregon State University has formed the OSU Unmanned Vehicle System Research Consortium with industry, government and others to bring a national UAV test center to the state and develop the use of these aerial systems, a potential multi-billion dollar job growth engine that will also provide significant benefit to society.

Decades of experience in remote sensing drew Oregon State University to this venture. OSU oceanographers use NASA satellites to monitor global phytoplankton productivity and identify harmful algal blooms. We use optical remote sensing to detect earthquake faults, assess wildfire impacts on forests and measure tsunami inundation patterns. We have instruments on the International Space Station to study shoals and ocean shores.

Unmanned autonomous vehicles are an important growth industry in the United States. Like GPS, the Internet, microprocessors and many other technologies, they started with military applications, but now are staples of everyday life.

We recognize that the transition toward considering the civilian use of UAVs has raised privacy concerns. Protection from prying cameras where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is a legitimate concern, legally protected by current law and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Yet every new technology has historically raised some kind of social concern. And, in response, society has figured out reasonable solutions. We urge that these same solutions be pursued in parallel with the needed technical research of UAVs.

Regardless of what we do in Oregon, UAV technology will be developed in the United States and around the world. But because of Oregon’s comprehensive scientific and industry experience, and our state’s ideal geography, we can choose to be a leader in this exciting venture.


This article originally appeared in the March 9 2013 Statesman Journal, here:



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