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Small Drones Deserve Sensible Regulation

Sensible regulation of small drones would foster innovation and protect privacy

2 min read
Small Drones Deserve Sensible Regulation
Illustration: Eric Frommelt

It’s no secret that the United States may be losing its edge in civilian aviation. Nowhere is this more apparent than with small unmanned aircraft, those tiny flying robots that promise to transform agriculture, forestry, pipeline monitoring, filmmaking, and more. While many other countries are racing to develop and use such drones, U.S. innovators remain more or less stuck on the starting line, mired in federal indecision and red tape. At the recent Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference, at New York University, one speaker imagined what would happen if the Wright brothers were to face such restrictions today: Moments before takeoff, a black Chevy Suburban would pull up, federal agents would jump out, and they would halt the ill-conceived experiment for safety reasons.

While such intervention seems oddly reasonable today, government safety mandates are now being extended to astonishingly small scales. In 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration declared [PDF]  that small flying contraptions, even those the size of your hand, are considered “aircraft” and therefore require a Certificate of Authorization if they are flown outside for anything other than recreation—even if they hover just an inch above the grass. One high-level policymaker conceded that tossing a paper airplane for research or educational purposes would technically require FAA approval.

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Top Tech 2023: A Special Report

These two dozen technical projects should make significant advances in the coming year

2 min read
Top Tech 2023: A Special Report
Edmon DeHaro

Each January, the editors of IEEE Spectrum offer up some predictions about technical developments we expect to be in the news over the coming year. You’ll find a couple dozen of those described in the following special report. Of course, the number of things we could have written about is far higher, so we had to be selective in picking which projects to feature. And we’re not ashamed to admit, gee-whiz appeal often shaped our choices.

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