Pioneered by the U.S. military, drones appear on their way to widespread civilian use, and
"The advantages that unmanned aircraft have over manned aircraft tend to be endurance," he said.
The Global Hawk, for example, can stay airborne 36 hours, with pilots on the ground changing shifts every eight hours to stay alert. That's likely to appeal to companies like
"All of those long-endurance, crew-intensive missions and applications could definitely benefit from that kind of remote technology," he said.
Ward retired from the
He will conduct a four-hour course at
As the technology evolves and costs come down, unmanned aircraft have raised concerns about privacy, government intrusion, conflicts with conventional aircraft and possible elimination of pilot jobs.
"Obviously there are groups that are concerned about job protection," he said. "But if I could just educate a couple people about, no you don't need to be paranoid, you don't need to oppose this. This is good."
Unmanned aircraft hold huge potential for "precision agriculture," Ward said. The planes can digitally survey large tracts of land and pinpoint areas that may need more water, fertilizer or herbicides, he said.
"So now he doesn't need to go out and spray herbicide over the entire field. He can very precisely apply it just to the spot that needs that," he said.
That is better for the environment and could lower food prices, he said.
In another example, the
Search and rescue missions in the backcountry could be streamlined with drones equipped with infrared technology, Ward said. A local company with an unmanned system could be on contract to support police and emergency responders as well as commercial customers.
Integrating unmanned craft with commercial and civilian air traffic will be challenging. Aircraft owners and pilots already are pushing back, said Ward, who began his
"They don't want any more regulations. They just want to get in their airplane on Saturday morning, go fly, and come back and land," he said. "They don't want one more set of rules of how to avoid the drone."
Ward's course also will touch on the growing popularity of hand-launched model aircraft.
"In my opinion the proliferation of the technology that will cause the most trespass of privacy won't be the government, it won't be a
Ward, who helped consult on
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