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States Vie for a Lucrative Chunk of Emerging Drone Industry

With the FAA opening airspace to commercial drones in 2015, competitive states use conference to help build case to be testing and development sites.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

August 14, 2013 - 7:40 pm

WASHINGTON — With hundreds of unmanned technology firms crammed into the massive exhibit hall at Washington’s Convention Center this week, a handful of states hoping to lure the emerging technology to their home turf joined the exhibition booths at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference.

North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Minnesota were among the more than 600 exhibitors, urging attendees from across the world to take a look at their corner of the U.S. as a prime spot to set down roots and grow their drone business. Utah beckoned passers-by with a giant air-filled Bigfoot wielding a drone. And from our neighbors to the north, Alberta was bucking for business as well.

Over at the Idaho booth, which was backdropped with a sunny landscape photo and stocked with Idaho businessmen in the aviation industry, one adviser to the state’s Department of Commerce said their focus is using the technology to benefit agriculture, water resources, fish and game, fire sciences and more.

“What works in one region may not work here,” said Steve Edgar, president and CEO of aviation firm ADAVSO, stressing that they’re promoting unmanned vehicles for uses that aid the welfare of their area.

He compared the benefits vs. privacy argument to the debate over the tradeoffs for TSA security.

“This is nothing new,” Edgar said. “Concern for privacy is always at the forefront of new technology.”

“We’re pro-UAS business. We’ve been flying tests for 15 years,” he added. “You want to see it used safely.”

Commerce Director Jeff Sayer lauded the tech wave coming to his state and recommended that its integration be embraced.

“We see that as a wide-open opportunity,” he said.

Sayer said it’s essential to “assure citizens they would be protected” in terms of privacy rights and carefully move forward to “demonstrate to people, look, we’re not crossing the line.”

“If our entire nation embraced that, everyone would benefit,” he said.

Being at the sprawling conference helps the unmanned systems industry “realize we really are a player,” Sayer added.

AUVSI has estimated that the drone industry could create 100,000 jobs by 2025, depending on legislative efforts to stem the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Idaho has tried to get out in front of the privacy concerns by this spring becoming the second state in the nation to enact restrictions on unwarranted surveillance. By tackling privacy fears from the outset, the state hopes to concentrate on pressing forward with accelerated development of drone technology and testing.

droneidaho

Commerce Department business attraction specialist Eric Forsch mans Idaho’s booth.

Over at the North Dakota booth, Doug McDonald, president of the Great Plains Chapter of AUVSI, said the unmanned industry is a natural fit for the state.

“North Dakota has a long history of aviation across the board,” McDonald said, and is buoyed in its quest to lure new business with the strong presence of the Defense and Homeland Security departments in the state.

He hopes businesses see an opportunity to grow in “uncongested airspace.”

State Sen. Tony Grindberg (R), an aerospace business manager, came to D.C. to support the effort, saying “education” will shape people’s opinions of unmanned technology as development and test sites come into shape.

With the Federal Aviation Administration opening airspace to commercial drones in 2015, interested states — including those at the conference — are aggressively vying to be one of the early test sites. The FAA expects to name the lucky six by the end of the year.

Privacy advocates are rushing to enact federal privacy laws governing drones to regulate government use, but advocates for the commercial uses note that federal law needs to work in tandem with states that want to embrace the technology — and take into consideration, Grindberg noted as an example, situations such as a farmer wanting to survey his land across two states that might have different laws.

“This is all part of the debate which has to happen,” Grindberg told PJM. “Those debates are healthy to the process.”

North Dakota’s Senate shot down a bill that passed in the state’s House of Representatives that would have prohibited drone use by law enforcement without a warrant and required that any pictures retrieved by drones have to be destroyed within 90 days.

Grindberg said “education and policy” will address concerns of drone opponents over time, comparing worries over the technology to fears that the advent of the Internet would cause mass intrusion into people’s privacy.

Over at the Ohio booth, which offered cookies shaped like the 17th state, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) stopped by to get an update from and encourage the representatives pitching the state’s positives to conference attendees.

“There are other states here, that’s for sure,” Turner noted.

Turner, along with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and other members of Congress, lobbied the administration this spring for an Ohio/Indiana alliance to be chosen as one of the test sites.

“Because of the large aerospace manufacturing sector already present in Ohio and Indiana, the selection of our proposal stands to provide high job gains in the region,” said the letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Representatives manning the booth told PJM that GOP Gov. John Kasich is supportive of the quest to lure drone business. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), though, is a co-sponsor on the Preserving American Privacy Act of 2013 — a bill to provide a legal framework for the use of unmanned systems that some believe could be an industry-killer.

Turner told reporters at the conference today that they’re “on the cusp” of watching the growth of the industry explode.

“This emerging technology is going to make a huge difference,” the congressman said.

Privacy, Turner added, is an “evolutionary issue.”

droneohio

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) visits his home state’s booth at AUVSI.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (12)
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As the Obama family opens up the cookie jar and takes out a few bills to invest in the so-called drone industry, the FAA sure knows better than to place anything in their way.

Drones have open up entirely new ways of killing pain-in-the-ashes around the globe...P-I-T-A's for short.

Obama has had a lot of personal experience with whacking P-I-T-A's all around the Middle-East, and cannot help but want to be investing in the ground floor of an entirely new industry dedicated to removing P-I-T-A' - his, and eventually, those bothering Obama administration czars and czarettes.

Eventually, this is a segment of industry where it may come to pass that even the most low down common peons could afford to save up a few dollars to purchase a cheap drone to dispose of folks that they don't like.

Drones for the common man could become as big a financial boon as microchips and computers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just out of curiosity, what makes these drones any more intrusive than the airplanes and helicopters law enforcement offices are flying now? I'm old enough to remember those painted lines appear across the highways and wonder what they were for. Then I started noticing the signs stating speed limits enforced by aircraft. Today, our County Sheriff has two helicopters that also double as med-evac choppers. We often see them flying over local neighborhoods supporting vehicles on the ground in searches for fleeing suspects or looking for missing persons. I remember when the Sheriff first got one. People were calling it Duff's (the sheriff at the time) Air Force and making fun of it. They were also making the same comments about them that I am now hearing about the drones.

I don't see a problem with the larger drones being used for traffic and such much as the helicopters are used now. The drones I do have a problem with are the tiny ones, not much larger than an insect that are nothing more than a flying spy-cam. Those are the ones that must be watched and regulated the most.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"State Sen. Tony Grindberg (R), an aerospace business manager, came to D.C. to support the effort, saying “education” will shape people’s opinions of unmanned technology as development and test sites come into shape."

Meaning, "We'll mount a PR campaign about the benefits, marginalize the opponents as whackos, and pretty much brainwash the mindless populace to trade even more liberty for some shiny trinkets. And the fools will fall for it."

And he's right.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yep, just like they did with those infernal 'horseless carriages'.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The fact of the matter is that drones for domestic use - except for RARE circumstances - is beyond dangerous.

It has become increasingly obvious that the US is becoming a police state, and this is deadly serious business - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/08/14/u-s-law-enforcement-running-wild-military-powers-incrementally-bestowed-where-is-this-headed-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/

Incrementally and with increasingly brazen chutzpah - pushed forward under Obama Inc. - America is hardly what it used to be. The Founders must be spinning in their graves!!

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There are no dangerous drones - There are only dangerous men.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“This is nothing new,” Edgar said. “Concern for privacy is always at the forefront of new technology.”

It's seldom even an afterthought.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Two-four fire mission. Clown wearing mask of Dear Leader at rodeo. Drone 101 commence fire. Tea Partiers holding rally for Constitution in city park. Drones 102, 103 and 104 commence fire.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The US is not Europe, and it sure as Hell is not Asia; TPTB start killing
citizens and the majority of their own forces will turn on them, no need
for an insurrection.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They've already got that.

These "civilian" drones will be in the hands of police, who will use them to monitor and to intimidate.


More subtly, they can be used to gain intel on political opponents, and, in some cases, to arm a blackmail machine.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Paranoia strikes deep; What makes you think the taxpayers, let alone
the opponents of the incumbents, will not take strong objection ?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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