Drone research: a boon for higher ed?

The civilian use of unmanned drones could be useful to Idaho farmers, firefighters and wildlife agencies — and drone research could benefit Idaho universities as well, says Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

On Wednesday, senators agreed. They approved a “concurrent resolution” urging the state Department of Commerce to lobby for unmanned drone testing in Idaho.

The Federal Aviation Administration is seeking six testing national sites for drones — or unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV, an aircraft without a human pilot on board. The resolution calls on the Commerce Department to spend $25,000 writing a proposal to the FAA — working with the University of Idaho, Boise State University, Idaho State University and the College of Western Idaho.

Drone research could also create a need for new community college programs and advanced college degrees, Winder said. “They’re on board,” Winder said of Idaho universities and CWI, “and they see great potential.”

Supporters say a companion bill would restrict the use of drones, allowing law enforcement to use the devices for surveillance only under “exigent circumstances.” Still, Boise Democratic Sen. Les Bock said drones represent a threat to privacy, since they could be used to spy on citizens.

The resolution passed 28-6, and goes to the House.

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