Lt. Col. Ricky Thomas of the U.S. Air Force noted that his service has used its Global Hawk in various humanitarian missions, including 2007’s Southern California wildfires, the Haitian earthquake, and over Japan. Thomas said that the Global Hawk, a controversial piece of equipment because of cost overruns, was used, among other things, to survey the damage to Japanese infrastructure after the earthquake and tsunami.
In the United States, aerial drones have given first responders the situational awareness necessary to make fast decisions of where to use resources most efficiently during forest fires and floods, said John Priddy, director of National Air Security Operations Center at Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Priddy says aerial drones, like the Predators CBP uses, “let you know exactly how bad the situation is and lets you know what assets you need to bring to the fight.”
Not everyone was content to concentrate on drone’s humanitarian side though.
During the Q&A portion of the conference, Medea Benjamin, cofounder of the antiwar organization Code Pink, stood up to denounce the use of drones by the United States in places like Pakistan.
“We know drones through a different way, not saving lives but actually taking lives,” Benjamin said. “Drones for people in Pakistan have killed hundreds and hundreds of innocent people.”
iRobot’s Heinz told Benjamin that his company doesn’t make weaponized drones.
♦ Photo of QinetiQ's Bobcat unmanned vehicle courtesy of QinetiQ North America