As the debate rages over the U.S. government's use of drones for military and other operations, unmanned vehicle technology is also starting to be used for a range of other applications, from law enforcement and agriculture to pipeline monitoring and commercial photography.
Perhaps not surprisingly, law enforcement agencies are at the forefront of domestic use of unmanned aircraft systems. For example, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office in Texas uses "ShadowHawk," a 29-pound unmanned helicopter with optional attachments such as a grenade launcher and shotgun. The mini-gunship outweighs the 25-pound limit for so-called "unmanned aerial systems," which is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Aerial video platform
HoverFlow, a Maine-based aerial filming and photography service, uses unmanned aircraft systems to capture high-definition film and photography. The company's GPS-guided unmanned aerial vehicles provide aerial footage from locations where even helicopters won't fly.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration in April 2005 launched the Altair Integrated System Flight Demonstration Project. They use drones for climate research and nautical charting, among other uses.
Autonomous mapping rover
Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3D Robotics and a former editor in chief of Wired Magazine, and his team are designing the ArduRover as a development platform for a self-driving car. The robot can also map terrain, evaluate real estate, plan development projects and more.
Drones for kids
UAV technology is also showing up in toys. Parrot's AR Drone 2.0, which sells for $299.99 at Toys R Us, appears in this image.
City planning robot
This robot looks inside of bridges to ensure they're safe, inspecting them to see if any parts are deteriorating. According to Rutgers University, the prototype "is able to combine various data sets and render an almost instantaneous three-dimensional snapshot of bridge deck condition that is easy to interpret."
Autonomous farming equipment
Some so-called "autonomous" machines are designed to kill people. This one kills weeds. Blue River Technology says its system, slated for production later this year, is a weed-killing machine that offers an automated alternative to herbicides.