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Civilian drones set to crowd the skies

Amazon has begun testing commercial drones. It hopes to launch the Prime Air service in the US within the next 5 years.

LAKSHMAN MENON  London | 18th Oct 2014

The “octocopter” drone is being tested by online retailer Amazon for delivering goods to customers.

First there was the internet, then the "smart phone". And now, within a decade, commercial unmanned drones will fill the skies. The Times reports that in a new technological explosion, the "detect and avoid" system needed to allow drones to join the already crowded skies will be ready for commercial use by 2023. Bomb carrying drones are already widely used in warfare, but these small aerial commercial vehicles will affect our lives in different ways, radically altering the way we shop and observe. And are observed.

The newspaper reports that Paul Cremin, the head of aviation safety at the UK's Department of Transport, said, "There are a number of civilian applications for this technology. I hear of a new one almost every day. People are becoming resourceful, in the same way as when the internet came on the scene and people were looking at different ways to use that technology."

Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, has already begun testing commercial "octocopter" drones capable of delivering goods to customers within 30 minutes of ordering. It hopes to launch the Prime Air service in the US within the next five years, the Times reports. Other corporations are testing drones for different purposes including tracking animals for scientific research, spraying crops and to uncover drug cartels deep in rainforests, the newspaper continues. It quotes John Brown, CEO of the US-based drone company Silent Falcon, as saying new uses for drones are constantly being dreamt up. "Out here we call it the Wild Wild West," he said. "It's a new industry and we are dealing with new applications several times a week." Some of these include transporting donor organs for transplants and monitoring transport links.

So far, so good; but there are concerns that the drones would also be used to spy on people, whether by governments, the media, terrorists and just about everyone else. Indeed, as Cremin told a House of Lords sub-committee, which has held its first meeting to discuss whether there is a need for EU-wide drone legislation and regulation, civilian drones would become a cheaper and more sustainable way for the security services to carry out aerial surveillance. The potential violation of civil rights apart, who else will be able to spy on us? And although Cremin dismissed fears that the drones could be used to launch attacks on civilians, the question remains: but could they be?

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