Next generation of drones awaits FAA go-ahead

Drones will soon become a much more common part of everyday life. The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts at least 7,500 will be maneuvering through the skies in the next five years. 

We may see these unmanned aircraft performing search and rescue operations, delivering emergency supplies, and even dropping off packages. They'll bring us birds-eye views of our favorite sporting events. Classified versions are already used in military strikes.

"The potential growth is pretty much infinite," Mike Richards, the president and CEO of Drone America, told CBS News. "People need to think of these machines as a tool." Richards is an engineer turned entrepreneur. His company is already designing the next generation of drones. 

  Among Drone America's four designs, one is an amphibious system, able to travel on water.  He said they are designed for search and rescue missions and disaster relief. 

"You are taking something that has been used or utilized in the military in many different applications, and transforming it into a commercial application," he said.

But before he can finalize the sales, he will have to wait for the FAA to finalize the regulations surrounding drones. 

"The fact that they are smaller, lighter, quieter, there's the opportunity for government to use surveillance in a lot more situations," Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at ACLU California, said to CBS News. 

This has caused many privacy advocates to raise concerns about the high-tech devices. There are also questions about the safety of drones entering commercial airspace or carrying packages -- what happens if there's a collision, or if a drone accidentally drops its cargo on a person? 

Congress directed the FAA to open the skies to drones by Sept. 2015. Last November, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced a bill calling for drone regulations.

"We need to ensure that these drones take off with privacy protections attached to them," Markey said. "If it's being used in a way that allows drones to spy on families in their backyards, then that's not right."
The rules are expected to be hammered out by the end of this year. 

In the meantime, the FAA does issue permits to test drones commercially. Richards is hoping to get one, so that he can finally get his business off the ground.