What do you know, drones are in the news again. They’re almost as popular as the NSA. We already know of the myriad places drones go, including war zones, frozen lakes, over the rooftops of polluting factories, and now, Hawaii. Yeah, this last option definitely sounds the best. Good choice, drones.
Not long ago, the FAA named Hawaii as a main site for drone research—one of six in America (Alaska’s on the list too). The University of Hawaii at Hilo, working in conjunction with the Hilo International Flight Training Center, is on the way to establishing an Aeronautical Science degree that will focus largely on remotely piloted aircrafts. Despite Hawaii’s history as a drone proving ground, the main purpose for these devices won’t be militaristic or to spy on unsuspecting citizens. The plan is to help support agriculture, which, along with tourism, is the state’s main source of income.
The drones will monitor crops and gather information about invasive species, as well as take footage of crops languishing due to disease, such as the banana bunchy top virus. That may not sound scary, but it is actually a huge problem, especially given how easily it spreads between plants, and the fact that no banana varieties have any resistance.
The FAA recently awarded the university a grant authorizing them to operate drones, so they’ve begun a test program. The goal is to fly over certain regions on a monthly basis and then send the data back for the school for analysis. The university will then give results and recommendations to the farmers. Ideally, the program will work well enough that farmers will pay a fee for the services rendered. Farms that grow genetically modified crops will likely be particularly interested in the service.
But where there are drones, there are worries. People are understandably protective of their privacy. It’s not really the university they’re worried about, but rather, law enforcement agencies and other corporations that might have access to the drone-collected data. The ACLU of Hawaii acknowledges the “significant potential for abuse,” as do others, but the University of Hawaii has promised transparency, and said they’re “way too busy doing some really cool stuff to peek into other people’s back yard.” Yeah, you’d think that about the NSA too, wouldn’t you?
Some also think this is a slippery slope towards Hawaii’s embracing of military drones. The Hawaii Aerospace Caucus has been established to boost the state’s “internationally competitive aerospace sector,” which includes drone testing. Time will tell what effects the drones have on Hawaii, but here’s hoping they don’t set their sights on ruining paradise.