are coming to America.
Worried about the militarization of U.S. airspace by unmanned aerial vehicles? As of October, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had reportedly issued 285 active certificates for 85 users, covering 82 drone types. The FAA has refused to say who received the clearances, but it was estimated over a year ago that 35 percent were held by the Pentagon, 11 percent by NASA, and 5 percent by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And it's growing. U.S. Customs and Border Protection already operates eight Predator drones. Under pressure from the congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus -- yes, there's already a drone lobby, with 50 members -- two additional Predators were sent to Texas in the fall, though a DHS official noted: "We didn't ask for them." Last June, a Predator drone intended to patrol the U.S.-Canada border helped locate three suspected cattle rustlers in North Dakota in what was the first reported use of a drone to arrest U.S. citizens.
4. The scope
of U.S. military drone missions is expanding…
Drones have come a long way in little more than a decade of military use in strike operations. Five-pound backpack drones are now used by infantry soldiers for tactical surveillance and will soon be deployed for what their manufacturer calls "magic bullet" kamikaze missions. Special operations forces have developed a warhead fired from a Predator drone that can knock down doors. K-Max helicopter drones transport supplies to troops at forward operating bases in Afghanistan. Balloons unleash Tempest drones, which then send out smaller surveillance drones -- called Cicadas -- that glide to the ground to collect data. And now the U.S. State Department is flying a small fleet of surveillance drones over Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy there. Bottom line: More and more drones have been rushed into service, and their use and application by the U.S. military is seemingly infinite.
5. …But not
as fast as civilian uses.
Safety inspectors used drones at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to survey the damage after last year's tsunami. Archaeologists in Russia are using small drones with infrared cameras to construct a 3-D model of ancient burial mounds. Environmental activists use the Osprey drone to track and monitor Japanese whaling ships. Photographers are developing a celebrity-seeking paparazzi drone. GALE drones will soon fly into hurricanes to more accurately monitor a storm's strength. And Boeing engineers have joined forces with MIT students to build an iPhone app that can control a drone from up to 3,000 miles away. Last summer, using a laser 3-D printer, University of Southampton engineers built a nearly silent drone that can be assembled by hand in minutes.