July 12 - The next generation of drones are on display at the International air show in Farnborough showing how pilot-less aircraft are now being used in civilian life. Julian Satterthwaite reports
Drones are an increasingly common sight in the skies over Afghanistan and the middle east, where the CIA uses them to hunt down Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. Properly called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, these drones are big, complicated aircraft with price tags to match. But drones are moving off the battlefield and into everyday life. As they come down in size, in complexity and above all in price, they are finding all sorts of new and unexpected roles in the civilian world. Even the smallest ones can carry out quite sophisticated tasks and carry all sorts of payloads - not least, a camera. The drone that filmed me is typical of the new breed - small and cheap, priced in the tens of thousands of dollars, not millions. They're also quiet and easy to fly, using GPS navigation and touch screen controls. Denis Tosoni of manufacturer Alpi Aviation. SOUNDBITE: Denis Tosoni, Alpi Aviation, saying (English): "It's capable of seven kilometers of flying in line of sight and 300 meters above the ground level maximum flying altitude and he has an endurance of thirty minutes." The newness of the market for micro UAVs means little companies like Alpi have a chance to stake their claim. But the big boys of the defence world aren't planning to sit on the sidelines. Boeing Defence CEO Dennis Muilenburg. SOUNDBITE: Dennis Muilenburg, CEO Boeing Defence, saying (English): "We also see customers developing new roles for UAVs, so not just defence and security measures, but also looking at things like border patrol, environmental monitoring. We've even had cases where there have been flood zones where no other vehicles could get in to observe whether there were stranded people who needed to be rescued." But some fear what might happen if the next generation of drones gets into the wrong hands. Resource UAS Training Programme Manager Craig Lippett says there are questions to be answered. SOUNDBITE: Craig Lippett, UAS Training Programme Manager, saying (English): "If the technology is good enough paparazzi could definitely use it, or the media could definitely use it, and there's probably a discussion to be had about the ethics, the moral component of whether they should or not." Safety questions also need to be addressed, but Lippett says the opportunities outweigh the risks. He's been asked about everything from inspecting damaged nuclear power stations, to counting sheep on remote farms. As for celebrities, you have been warned. Julian Satterthwaite, Reuters.