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FAA chief addresses nation's largest drone trade show

August 07, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan

LAS VEGAS -- In a testament to the rise of the drone industry, the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration addressed the nation’s largest robotics conference to discuss the integration of unmanned aircraft in U.S. skies.

Michael Huerta addressed an audience of hundreds in the vast ballroom of the Mandalay Bay hotel at the Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International trade show. It marked the first time an FAA administrator addressed the show in its 39-year history.

In his speech, Huerta spoke about the evolution of aviation and the FAA’s response to change. He told drone manufacturers and government officials that his agency was prepared for the thousands of drone aircraft that are expected to be flying in U.S. skies within the next three years.  

Huerta talked about this year’s creation of an FAA office to oversee unmanned systems integration and the process of picking six drone test sites across the country by the end of the year.

“This new office has a lot underway already,” he said. “There's a lot of work that needs to be done to move [drone] integration forward. But I'm very, very optimistic we will get there.”

Currently, drones are not allowed to fly in the U.S. except with special permission from the FAA. But as technology becomes more advanced and demand increases for using drones in the commercial world, the agency has moved to ease restrictions.

While drone technology has evolved, there are still safety concerns, Huerta said. There are also privacy concerns about the drones' use of high-powered cameras which will one day be able to fly above backyard pool parties and other private activities.

Huerta said the FAA has repeatedly reached out for public input to address worries about how drones will be used.

So, while fine-tuning the technology is important, Huerta said, “building human consensus … is an equally important task and unbelievably complicated.”

The unmanned vehicle group's trade show has more than 500 exhibitors showing off robotic technology of all stripes: in the air, on land and in the sea. It began Tuesday and ends Thursday.

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