The Promise of UAVs

Will unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones become a platform for future LIDAR, imagery, and other geospatial data collection activities?

There was initial excitement and anticipation in the geospatial community when Congress passed and the President signed legislation in February 2012 authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop and implement a plan to provide a certificate of authorization for commercial operation of UAVs. More recently, that outlook has been tempered by numerous legislative proposals, in Congress and some 30 state legislatures, to limit the use of UAVs, in order to address alleged concern over individual citizen privacy.

MAPPS began working with State Representative Neil Kurk of the New Hampshire state legislature when he pre-filed a "drone" bill in December 2012, with a summary title of a bill prohibiting images of a persons residence to be taken from the air.

We continue to be in touch with State Rep. Kurt and assisted with various redrafts of his bill.

The bill that eventually reached the NH state house floor included language Rep. Kurk believed had taken care of various concerns by a number of parties, including our community, in that it only sought to regulate "surveillance which was read to mean using a drone for "the act of monitoring, observing, photographing, taking images of, listening to, or making a recording of:

(1) A recognizable individual or a group of individuals or their movements, activities, and communications;
(2) The interior of a building or structure."

The committee’s description of the bill, HB 619, and Kurk’s own amendment in the nature of a substitute, made it clear the NH Legislature is aware of the MAPPS concerns and was attempting to address them.

However, the bill was tabled on the floor of the NH state House of Representatives on March 27 by an overwhelming 278-87 margin.

In Georgia, a State Senate bill that seeks to limit UAV collection applications specifically exempts the geospatial community. SB 200 introduced February 22 by State Senator Joshua McKoon provides an exception for, "any object, mechanism, or vehicle deployed in flight for the purpose of mapping, cartography, or surveying or imaging of land if such deployment is made without intent to engage in surveillance or search and seizure."

With UAV limitation or restriction bills pending in approximately 30 of the 50 state legislatures, our community would be well served by communicating with state legislators to urge the inclusion of language similar to Georgias SB 200.

Otherwise, UAVs may be grounded before they ever get off the ground.