The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently hosted a workshop on Drones and the Future of Aviation — the first ever event on this topic at the White House — to further understand how unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, could play a positive role in public life. Subject matter experts from government, industry and the academic research community took part to discuss opportunities and address the challenges posed by this emerging technology.
During the event, OSTP also announced new steps to promote a safe assimilation for UAS across the United States. These announcements include:
- $35 million in research funding by the National Science Foundation over the next five years to accelerate the understanding of how to intelligently and effectively design, control and apply UAS to beneficial applications. This will include areas such as physical infrastructure inspection and monitoring, smart disaster response, agricultural monitoring, the study of severe storms, and more.
- A broad range of actions by the U.S. Department of the Interior to use UAS to support search and rescue operations, augment manned aircraft operations, and improve government processes around technological adoption.
- A collective commitment made by UAS industry associations to implement a broad educational effort around privacy best practices for users of UAS technology, among other private-sector commitments to support UAS technologies.
With the announcement in mind, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG) reflects on some of its recent work and why UAS matter for first responders. As highlighted in the OSTP blog, drones are already helping first responders across the country fight wildfires, speed up search and rescue operations, monitor and fix critical infrastructure, and transport emergency medical supplies to remote locations.
“UAS technology is here to stay,” says Stephen ‘Herbie’ Hancock, a former Navy aerospace engineering duty officer, now the director for special projects within the FRG. “This is why FRG remains committed to exploring and supporting initiatives that spur innovation across the public-private sector divide,” said Hancock.
One of those initiatives is a new cooperative research and development agreement between DHS and a consortium of insurance and real estate companies that use high-resolution, drone-mounted sensors to inspect properties. DHS believes their techniques can be adapted to educate and potentially support first responder operations and that public-private partnerships might be established to enlist private UAS resources to aid in disaster response.
FRG’s Next Generation First Responder Apex program recently held a demonstration highlighting innovative technologies that combined to improve communications and situational awareness of first responders during disasters and critical incidents. The demonstration integrated physiological and environmental sensors, streaming video from UAS during a simulated emergency scenario calling for a coordinated response from law enforcement, fire fighters and emergency medical technicians.
In addition, DHS also authored a report on best practices for UAS in regards to privacy, civil rights and civil liberties as a part of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Working Group.
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