The US military’s drone program is entering a period of “deregulation,” and the next-generation technology could make its way into the field of policing, according to a study by a nonprofit organization.
The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), which has been tracking drone use and use by the military for the past three decades, said Thursday that drone use in the US is now declining and its adoption has reached the tipping point.
“The US military is moving towards more civilian-controlled drones,” said the study’s author, Robert Koehler, a senior research fellow at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“It is not clear that drone technology will be fully commercialized by the end of the decade, but the military is at least thinking about that possibility.”
In its 2016 report, the NAPO said that the US currently spends $50 billion a year on drone surveillance and targeting, which could drop to $30 billion or more if commercial drones become available.
This year alone, the military spent more than $500 million on drones, with the Pentagon still considering expanding that to $1 billion.
But it’s unclear whether the next generation of drone technology would have the same potential impact.
“Commercial drones will need to be much more reliable, able to handle a much greater number of drones and sensors than current drones, and they will also need to have a much better safety record,” Koehlman said.
While drones may be useful for military purposes, they have the potential to be used in other contexts, including public safety, the study found.
Drone use has dropped sharply since the mid-1990s, with most drones deployed only in war zones and the occasional urban or rural operation.
But the number of uses has risen dramatically since then, with about 75 percent of all drone usage occurring since 2009.
The number of flights a drone makes has tripled since 2009, the report said.
“At some point, drones may need to find themselves in more civilian settings and that will mean they need to get used to operating outside the public realm,” Kuehler said.
Drone usage is projected to increase as the military focuses more on its own missions and technology.
According to Koeherlman’s study, the U.S. spent $7.7 billion on drones last year and is projected by the Air Force to spend $17.7bn this year.
“We’re going to need a lot more drones, which will mean we’ll need a whole lot more military support for them,” Kueslman said, noting that the military may have to rely on contractors to provide the drones.
“That’s going to have to change the way we support these things.”
Koehels study also found that drones can be used as a deterrent for criminals.
For example, a drone that was equipped with a camera could be used to identify a criminal and detain him.
However, the cost of that kind of surveillance would have to be borne by taxpayers, according Koeberlman.
“If you’re going after a guy who’s not armed and he’s wearing a mask, that might be a good deterrent, but it doesn’t mean it’s going a good enough deterrent,” he said.
Kueberlmann also said drones might be used for “a range of other purposes” including surveillance of endangered wildlife.
Koehner’s study was based on data from a 2010 survey of 1,800 people conducted by the Pew Research Center.
The survey was conducted by researchers at the National Opinion Research Center and was released on Thursday.
The data was provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.