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Lawmakers look at future of drones in NC

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Lawmakers are trying to figure out what kind of regulations are needed for the emerging drone industry. Lawmakers are trying to figure out what kind of regulations are needed for the emerging drone industry.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

North Carolina lawmakers are trying to figure out what kind of regulations are needed for the emerging drone industry -- an industry advocates say could create thousands of jobs and generate billions in revenue.

The House Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems reviewed a 26-page report on drones Monday that lays a loose framework for how the state should go about regulating them.

As for how law enforcement should use them for surveillance, the report says that "requires further legal analysis." The ACLU is pushing lawmakers to draft legislation forcing police to get a warrant before launching a drone into the sky.

Right now, there's a statewide moratorium on drone usage for government and commercial uses until July 2015. But after that moratorium is lifted, advocates are excited about the possibilities drones offer.

"I am so excited about this," said Chris Emanuel, a former pilot of 38 years with U.S. Airways. "This has the potential of going even beyond what computers were in the '90s."

"This is an industry North Carolina should have. It means thousands and thousands of jobs to us, " he said.

Olaeris, which makes drones that can be used by first responders, says it wants to move its headquarters to North Carolina, but it wants to make sure the state doesn't over regulate the industry.

"North Carolina can set an example of how they can be used responsibly for the benefit of the people they serve," Olaeris CEO Ted Lindsley said, "while operating under the scrutiny of those same people."

Some suggest making commercial drone users pay a fee to the state to operate their devices.

Kyle Snyder suggests making commercial drone users pay a fee to the state to operate their devices.

"We've been talking about: how do we support this integration?"  Snyder said. "Maybe with commercial licensing much like we do with a driver's license right now."

The possibility of drones goes beyond commercial use, as well.

Snyder, an expert on drones at North Carolina State University's NextGen Air Transportation, said private citizens, like farmers, can also benefit from the usage of drones.

"Using a camera like ... a multi-spectral camera, I can look at different wave lengths to say, 'Is this crop healthy?'" Snyder said. "Does it have enough nitrogen? Does it have enough water?"

But privacy experts say more time needs to be focused on examining the implications of private use.

"When it comes to private uses, I think some time needs to be spent figuring it if they want to create new criminal penalties," said Sarah Preston, with the ACLU. "Whether current laws exist that address it, as well as whether there is First Amendment protections that come into play for people using them for artistic purposes."

The committee intends to make its recommendations for unmanned air crafts by next month.

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Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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