“The agency has issued 266 active testing permits for civilian drone applications but hasn't permitted drones in national airspace on a wide scale out of concern that the pilotless craft don't have an adequate 'detect, sense, and avoid' technology to prevent midair collisions,” the Los Angeles Times reported in November.
The FAA has plans to propose new rules sometime early this year. Experts predict that law enforcement agencies will be the biggest commercial market for drones.
"At the moment defense contractors are lining up to sell police forces expensive gear. It's one of those things in life where chucking more money at something does not make it the best," Mortimer said by email. The UAV used to photograph Trinity River was created by mounting a point-and-shoot digital camera onto a $75 airframe.
"[The Trinity River case] shows that flights within visual line of sight and below 400 feet have a use. Farming is a very different place from law enforcement. It could be argued that agriculture and environmental and construction ought to be allowed first. But the big defense contractors don't see it that way."
Mortimer says UAS technology gives operators the "ability to look over a fence" that didn't exist years ago, so privacy issues are inevitable.
But, "in this instance though," he said, "I think the images exposed a wrongdoing that needed to be found. It does make you wonder why that volume of blood was not sensed somewhere downstream and then investigated though."
"From where I sit overseas, the lack of regulations in the USA just seems like madness. You're falling behind over there," he said.