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Civilian drones prepare for takeoff in NW with sheriffs

Tom Banse
Prioria business development executive David Wright demonstrates the Maveric UAS.

TACOMA, Wash. - Get ready to spot a new kind of "bird" in the sky. Within the next month, the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to green light the use of small unmanned aircraft by emergency services. Some sheriffs' departments in the Northwest are showing interest in these aircraft.

What we're talking about here are scaled up hobby airplanes and helicopters or scaled down military drones. A booth rented by unmanned aircraft systems company Prioria Robotics drew a crowd this week at an emergency management conference in Tacoma.

"We want all the fire departments and the sheriff's departments to know that this is out here and available," says Prioria sales and marketing executive David Wright. "Because a lot of them don't know. This is new. This is outside the box."

Wright says his small battery-powered airplane can transmit high-definition video or infrared images to a ground controller. He's says the drones are much, much cheaper to acquire and operate than traditional aircraft.

The Clackamas County, Oregon Sheriff's Office could be among the first adopters in the region. A sheriff's spokesman sees potential use in search-and-rescue. But he adds his agency has no interest in using drones for routine aerial surveillance.

Drones already challenging privacy in the hands of paparazzi:

And, of course, there are the fears of Big Brother:

Also on the Web:

“Meanwhile, the widespread domestic use of drones is on the horizon. In January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the US aviation regulator for information about the deployment of drones by law enforcement and other public agencies in the US.”

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.