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What Else Can We Use Drones For?

Today, The New York Times reported on an emerging diplomatic tiff over the use of unarmed drones around America’s embassy and consulates in Iraq. Iraqi officials, who say they weren’t consulted about the use of the aircraft, argue that the use of drones violates their sovereign airspace. The Study tries to avoid wading into diplomatic disputes, but it notices that drones are popping up more and more in the news, and not just for launching missiles at suspected terrorists. (For one, they’re used to patrol the southwestern border of the U.S.) What else can unarmed drones be used for?

A 2004 NASA report has several suggestions. To survey the possible uses of unmanned aircraft, the agency prepared a “Civil UAV Capability Assessment.” After interviews with experts in a variety of fields, the authors chose four categories of potential missions: commercial, earth science, homeland security, and land management. They argued that unmanned aircraft could be used to study cloud systems, observe changes in ozone chemistry, measure polar ice sheets, observe forest fires, patrol the coasts, conduct censuses of wildlife, and more. In fact, the technology likely has myriad uses which haven’t even been thought of—and which, it can safely be assumed, won’t have the downside of inciting a diplomatic controversy.