Get Ready for Drones

Also, Philadelphia launches the Municipal Innovation Academy and newly-elected Seattle Mayor Ed Murray puts the kibosh on the city's gigabit network plans.

by / December 17, 2014

First thing this year, the Obama administration announced six drone test sites, which will provide information on how to introduce the technology commercially. Currently public safety departments and research universities can be granted permits to operate drones, and the technology’s potential in other fields like agriculture is said to be nearly limitless.

Drones are set to truly take off next year, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) scrambling to meet a September 2015 deadline to issue regulations for integrating unmanned aerial vehicles into the U.S. airspace. (Although it now looks like the deadline may be pushed back to 2017.) The agency predicts that 15,000 drones will be in the sky by 2020.

But there are some rather large details standing in the way of widespread drone use, at least in the near term. A government audit says the FAA isn’t likely to meet the September deadline for several reasons, including the fact that the agency hasn’t decided what type of technology is needed to prevent drones from crashing into manned aircraft.

Even after the FAA determines its conditions for moving forward, the conversation will keep going at the state and local levels. Since 2013, 20 states have passed drone laws, with 13 of those restricting law enforcement’s use of the technology. And others are still struggling with the issue. For instance, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation in September requiring public safety agencies to obtain warrants before using unmanned aircraft except in emergencies, saying the measure exceeded constitutional requirements.

Whether or not the FAA meets its deadline next year, the interest around drones is only increasing. States and localities that have sat on the sidelines so far will need to confront the issue in 2015, or risk not keeping up with this rapidly emerging technology.

Back to the Year in Review: Making Sense of 2014

Elaine Pittman Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Government Technology from 2008 to 2017.