Photo: Drone testing (New Mexico State University)
By Rob Nikolewski, New Mexico Watchdog
With the controversy surrounding these unmanned aerial vehicles, state officials and potential business interests are keen to stress their positive applications.
“There has been a lot issues in the press about privacy,” Steve Hottman, director of the Physical Science Laboratory at New Mexico State University, told New Mexico Watchdog. “But there are a lot of different uses for these platforms.”
The university based in Las Cruces is home to the Unmanned Aerial Systems Technical Analysis and Applications Center, which was established in 1999 with the mission to “promote safe integration of UAS in the National Airspace System.” Hottman says six drones are in use at NMSU, including three radio-controlled aircraft trainers with wingspans of 22 feet.
“We’ve worked with these systems for 40-50 years,” Hottman said, highlighting the lab’s work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy and the FAA.
New Mexico Tech has also worked with drone technology at the university’s research center in Playas, and so has Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, where it was reported last month that 678 pilot and sensor operator students were enlisted this fiscal year to scan the skies.
In recent months, the use of drones by the Obama Administration against suspected terrorists and their potential use domestically has lead to plenty of debate.
In a May speech, President Obama defended his use of drones to assassinate suspected extremists overseas, including Americans, while at the same time asking lawmakers to join him in setting modest new safeguards for their use. In March, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has attacked the Obama administration’s in a Senate filibuster, saying it was setting a precedent that the federal government could order the killing of American citizens on U.S. soil without first convicting them in court
This week, the state senate in Oregon passed legislation aimed at regulating police and government use of drones. That law would ban official drone use unless authorized by statute. Drones would be allowed for emergency situations such as finding a child lost in the woods or fighting a fire, but police would be restricted in how they can use gathered information.