Safety fears

As drones look poised to become increasingly prevalent in our skies, concerns are being raised over their safety. This isn’t some Matrix-inspired conspiracy theory of autonomous battle-bots wreaking havoc.

These are very real concerns over the logistics of having several tonnes of unmanned metal careering through our already busy airspace. US Congress counted around 200 drone accidents of varying severity over four and a half years in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than half of which were due to “material issues” such as component failures.

As drones look set to roll out for everything from crop dusting to drugs patrols, the US Federal Aviation Administration is struggling to update their safety codes to take the challenges of remote operation into account.

Drone school

One exhibitor at the show wasn’t promoting new technologies and designs. It was offering doctorates. Unmanned Vehicle University (UVU), based in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, teaches advanced online courses in such topics as drone aerodynamics, swarming and firefighting.

It currently has 50 students, including the CEO of a composites company and an Air Force general officer, and its instructors are drawn from academia and the military. “You can even learn to fly an unmanned vehicle over the internet,” says founder Jerry LeMieux, a former F4 pilot. The university sends students a controller and they can control an actual robot from the comfort of their living room.

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