, Salem, MA


June 17, 2014

Watson: Drones are poised to take over

Drones are poised to take over? Yes, that’s my bet. After all, has there ever been invented a technological advance that we voluntarily decided to not use? Especially when the introduction of that technology — like drones — is strongly supported by both the media and large, economically powerful, commercial interests?

Drones come in all sizes and shapes and have different purposes. Because of that enormous variety, they are more accurately referred to as UAVs — unmanned aerial vehicles.

Perhaps the UAVs best known to us are the military drones that the U.S. has used to assassinate terrorists (or suspects) in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Somalia and other places. Most common is the Predator, 27 feet long with a 55-foot wingspan, resembling a conventional airplane. It can carry two supersonic missiles.

The U.S. also flies a large surveillance drone, the Global Hawk, which is 48 feet long with a 131-foot wingspan. Additionally, the military possesses all sorts of smaller, specialty drones — many in unusual shapes — and some only inches long.

The U.S. Air Force and the CIA, located in facilities in Nevada and Virginia, control overseas drone flights via satellite links and have conducted more than 100,000 missions since 2003. The military owns roughly 9,000 drones and sometimes loans them to the FBI, DEA, Border Patrol, and state and local law enforcement.

The UAV industry, still in its infancy, nonetheless offers a rapidly expanding variety of drones for public or private use. Hobbyists can purchase small drones that resemble either airplanes or helicopters or flying saucers for prices that start around $750.

Many common, popular UAVs that are often used for aerial photography resemble helicopters, although they usually have four or eight horizontal rotors rather than the typical one. Manufactured by dozens of companies, these “quadcopters” or “octocopters” range in size from 14 inches across to 40 inches or so.

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