By Allison Barrie
Published April 20, 2012
A new fleet of model-airplane sized unmanned drones that can be launched from a slingshot on a momentís notice are among the first wave in the massive rollout of commercial robot planes currently underway into U.S. skies.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones have become synonymous with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thanks to powerful spy planes and fighters with names like Raptor and Predator. The AggieAir Flying Circus are environmental crusaders instead, deployed to prevent water shortages and solve water resource challenges in Utah.
ď[Itís an] on-demand fleet of UAVs that could be put in the sky at a momentís notice,Ē explained Mac McKee, director of the Utah Water Research Lab at Utah State University that created the Flying Circus.
Water is a key resource in the state, where approximately 85 percent is diverted toward irrigating agriculture -- meaning the rest of the economy relies on the remaining 15 percent. But satellite images werenít providing adequate aerial imagery to let the lab effectively study wetlands and agriculture.
The drones have made the water delivery system far more efficient by better anticipating demand, freeing up a huge volume for Utahís economy and citizens.
On February 3, the House of Representatives passed a bill that will lead to a dramatic increase in the number of drones permitted to fly in US airspace. As restrictions ease, UAVs have been the subject of considerable debate; the Wall Street Journal wrote Thursday that more than 50 universities and law-enforcement agencies have been granted approval to operate them, according to Freedom of Information Act requests by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
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