Could Samaritan Drone Aircraft Help Hurricane Harvey Rescuers?
As the effects of Hurricane Harvey continue to torment southeastern Texas and parts of Louisiana, remote-controlled drone aircraft have offered a bird’s-eye view of the devastation in real time. For nearly a week YouTube users have been posting and sharing aerial footage of flooded roadways and decimated homes in and around Houston. Some of the video shows vehicles perilously plowing through deluged roadways—yet much of it is eerily absent of human activity.
There is good reason for that: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other government agencies issued terse warnings for civilians to keep their drones out of areas where official rescue operations are using low-flying aircraft to locate and evacuate Harvey’s victims. (Much of the footage of the storm had until recently come from television news crews on the ground.) U.S. Air National Guard Maj. Gen. James Witham this week likewise warned civilian drone operators against flying over Harvey’s disaster zone, for fear the mere sight of unauthorized drones would ground rescue helicopters. U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft expressed similar concerns.
Sidelining private drone use in rescue areas is not without controversy. Advocates for the technology want the FAA to find ways for civilian drones to coordinate with first responders searching for people who are still trapped, and possibly to deliver medical supplies and food to victims waiting for help. “Though the perceived risk of colliding with a drone may significantly hamper operations by deterring law enforcement and medical personnel from conducting search and rescue operations in the aftermath of Harvey, the actual risk of a serious accident as the result of a drone collision is very low,” says Chris Koopman, director of the Technology Policy Program at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. A 2016 Mercatus Center report concluded that most consumer drones are so lightweight that they pose “negligible risk” to pilots and passengers, even if one were to strike another aircraft, Koopman adds.
Source News : scientificamerican
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