Much of the public debate about unmanned aircraft has focused on armed drones that patrol the skies in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, hunting for militants. In a recent Senate filibuster, Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul crystallized anxiety about the lethal technology being turned on Americans on U.S. soil.
But there is also growing interest in the potential domestic applications of unarmed drones. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed the Federal Aviation Administration to start creating a system for regulating and licensing unmanned aircraft, a process that will entail launching six special test sites. At a Tuesday hearing, lawmakers talked about how to ensure one of those sites is in California.
"Simply put, unmanned aircraft systems are the next big thing in the aerospace industry," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. "We need to make sure that California continues to be a national and global leader in aerospace," he added. He said groups in 37 states have been working on applications.