Hawaii could be test site for domestic drones - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Hawaii could be test site for domestic drones

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Drones have been considered a military tool but soon they could be floating around neighborhoods as well.

Domestic drones are said to be the next multibillion dollar business helping everyone from realtors to rescuers. But it's also raising plenty of privacy concerns.

The projection is that there will be 30,000 drones in U.S. skies by the end of the decade which is why the FAA wants some more information on the machines and Hawaii could be a testing ground.

They are not like the military drones that can drop bombs, domestic drones can be used to survey property, help search and rescuers, ranchers or researchers.

"The number of potential valuable uses out there is almost impossible to categorize all of them because new ones pop up all the time," said Ro Bailey, Deputy Director, Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration - Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (ACUASI-RDT&E).

Ro Bailey is leading the effort to make Hawaii, Alaska and Oregon testing grounds for the domestic drones to make sure they can handle any terrain and climate safely and reliably. Once tests are complete the FAA can help draft airspace rules to make sure the friendly skies don't get jammed up.

"You want to know it will respond to its commands every single time. And so you test that," said Bailey.

The FAA is expected to decide if Hawaii will be among the test sites by the end of the year.

"The interest and expectation is that this is a multibillion dollar industry just waiting to explode on the country," said Bailey.

Lawmakers agree the sky's the limit on domestic drones however they also recognize its new ground and laws need to be established.

"We know that like cell phones, like the internet there is going to a huge explosion of potential use of these drones in the private sector," said Senator Mazie Hirono, (D) Hawaii.

The drones are the next big thing and bound to be smaller, quieter and undetectable. So the concern is privacy. What if your boss, ex-boyfriend, neighbor or anyone else tries to harass or spy on you.

"We worry about noise and sound and our neighbor's leaf blowers. I think we should be a little more concerned about the security aspects of the drones," said State Senator Sam Slom, (R) Minority Leader.

Senator Slom did introduce a bill banning drone surveillance but it is not expected to go anywhere.

"It's just coming on board and some people have said gee why are you raising a red flag? Well better to discuss it now which some of them are very small and compact are flying around in various residential neighborhoods," said State Senator Slom.

"Imagine that some of these drones are really tiny and they were hovering by your home picking up all kinds of information," said Sen. Hirono.

"There is a significant potential for abuse when unmanned aerial vehicles can be equipped with thermal imaging, microphones, facial recognition software, and license plate readers. Without proper regulations, Hawaii's people are faced with the threat of a constant invasion of privacy that would treat everyday citizens with constant suspicion," said Vanessa Chong, Executive Director, ACLU of Hawaii, in a written statement. "Whereas drones can be incredibly useful for practices such as search and rescue, fire fighting, and dangerous tactical police operations, these benefits should not excuse the dangers or risks that exist."

"I would hope that it's a lot about education and exposure to what's really out there and a little less about the sensationalism," said Bailey.

While still early the domestic drones discussion is already taking off.

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