Drones to take out skeptics?

“Once this technology gets out there, it’s going to just explode.”

Greenwire reports today on how airborne drones — heretofore used to kill undesirables in the Middle East — may be used for environmental purposes:

Drone technology, which revolutionized the way the U.S. military spies and fights, is now opening vast new opportunities for environmental researchers and the energy industry. And the Arctic — with its brutal temperatures and vast, unpopulated spaces making manned flight difficult and dangerous — is ground zero for those efforts.

Greg Walker, the man behind the controls of the drone in Nome and manager of the University of Alaska’s Unmanned Aircraft Program, has been at the center of many of the Arctic missions. It is something of a miracle he still has all his fingers…

He is currently using drones to help resolve a long-standing dispute between Alaska fishermen and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over catch limits.

And he is not the only one using drones for energy and environmental efforts.

Energy companies have been testing small, unmanned aircraft as potential pipeline and drilling rig monitors. The Interior Department has more than 40 unmanned aerial systems that it uses to monitor wildlife and fires. And NASA scientists have sent retired Air Force drones to collect atmospheric data on high-altitude, cross-ocean missions that would be too long and dangerous for human pilots…

Researchers are also considering mounting sensors on unmanned systems that could detect oil spills or other chemical releases. A hydrocarbon sniffer mounted on a drone could fly over beaches or pipelines to look for volatile organic compounds before any sheen appears in the water or seeps up to the surface…

The energy industry and other groups also are relying on drones to keep an eye on wildlife…

NASA is also working with NOAA to fly the drones over the Atlantic Ocean during the next few hurricane seasons to study storm intensification. The drones will allow scientists to track hurricanes for longer than manned aircraft could, flying over the entirety of the storm multiple times.

“Right now, 90 percent or more of the market is military,” said Steve Zaloga, who writes an annual 10-year forecast of the drone market for the consulting firm the Teal Group. “There’s obviously a sense that there’s a potential market out there, but all these barriers make it very difficult to make any hard and fast predictions about when it’s going to open up.”

“We’re just at the beginning,” said Michael Hutt, who oversees the Interior Department’s drones at the U.S. Geological Survey. “It feels a lot like when we were just introducing GPS, and then all of a sudden, GPS became commonplace. Once this technology gets out there, it’s going to just explode.”

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