Drones soar in space, overseas and in Texas

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In this June 1, 2012, photo provided by Boeing, the new Boeing Phantom Eye unmanned drone, designed to stay airborne for days, takes off on its first autonomous flight at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The 28-minute flight began a
In this June 1, 2012, photo provided by Boeing, the new Boeing Phantom Eye unmanned drone, designed to stay airborne for days, takes off on its first autonomous flight at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The 28-minute flight began a

Unmanned aerial vehicles have made it stateside from war overseas, and are being put to use in Texas for a range of domestic uses, from environmental research to police surveillance.

 

For the past few years, drones have mostly been making headlines for their ability to rack up death tolls, militant and civilian alike. With Iran’s capture of a U.S. drone in December, Venezuela’s recently announced drone manufacturing plans, and the Air Force's unmanned space plane wrapping up a year long mission Saturday,  the remote controlled vehicles seem destined for a full-time career in 21st century warfare.

But UAVs in Texas are finding less deadly uses.

The Austin American-Statesman reported a new drone project taking place just 10 miles from San Marcos that will be monitoring environmental conditions of Texas’ bays and rivers and is remotely piloted by a former Air Force mechanic.

The research drone is part of a two-year Texas State University project funded by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to the tune of $260,000.

UT is not without its own drone accomplishments. In 2010 the UT UAV Team won $2,200 for placing 14 out of 26 in the AUVSI Student Unmanned Aircraft Systems Competition.

There is also no shortage of UAV research underway on UT’s campus, from a study on UAVs in search and rescue operations, to an advanced design for UAV automated decision making programs.

While engineering students may be eager to perfect drone technology and increase its use, others have been turned off by privacy concerns after the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office made plans to use weaponized drones to aid police officers.

The idea of the police using drones caused such a stir in Houston in that Mayor Annise Parker ceased the Houston Police Department’s plans to launch a speed enforcement UAV when she took office in 2010.  The halting came just after HPD ended a two-year drone program that failed because of FAA restrictions and design woes.

The Federal Aviation Administration granted drones access to U.S airspace in February paving the way for increased drone presence.

With engineering advancements and new FAA regulations, domestic UAVs look like they are here to stay.