Expert says drone uses grow daily

Louis Wasson, an extension specialist on unmanned aerial systems at Mississippi State, holds an unmanned aircraft
Staff Writer

The uses for drone in everything from farming to industry to emergency response are growing every day and that growth will only continue, an expert in unmanned aerial vehicles said Tuesday.

"Everything they touch they impact. It's fascinating technology that is growing and expanding everyday," Louis Wasson, an extension specialist on unmanned aerial systems at Mississippi State, told a meeting of the Clay County Local Emergency Planning Committee.

Among other things, Wasson demonstrated a small "toy" drone like those used by hobbyists worldwide. He also showed off the popular four-rotor drone that was a Christmas gift for thousands of Americans last year and is used by everyone from farmers to photographers.

The various models also are increasingly popular with emergency response teams because they are small, lightweight, and relatively easy to operate.

He noted that for about $1,500 plus costs of training and some related expenses, Clay County could get into the drone business.

Sheriff Eddie Scott, working with the West Point Police Department, already is researching the possibility of acquiring a drone for everything from search and rescue to crime scene analysis.

Drones got their first widespread exposure in emergency response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005.

"We learned a lot during Katrina, about all the things they can do and a few of the limitations. But that knowledge has expanded so much now," said Wasson who spent a month on the Mississippi Coast following Katrina.

The aerial devices got extensive use last year during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and helped save time and money.

One of the most dramatic videos was of a lifeguard in Australia using a drone to fly a life preserver down a beach to two swimmers who were in trouble. The whole process only took a couple of minutes and unfolded just before a huge wave crashed over the two swimmers.

As examples in the region where drones are used regularly, he cited Steel Dynamics which uses the devices to fly over the steel mill's huge campus to check inventory. Likewise, construction crews use them for 3-D modeling. That doesn't include farmers and loggers who use them regularly to survey fields, crops, cattle and timber or utility companies that use them to check cell towers, rights of ways, and power lines.

"They give you access and a perspective you simply can't get any other way," Wasson told the LEPC which includes nursing homes, fire and police, the Red Cross and similar agencies, the state Department of Health, emergency management, Columbus Air Force Base, and Yokohama and several other local industries.

In addition to showing videos of uses, Wasson also outlined the procedures for licensing, regulations, basic flight rules and steps for acquiring one of the devices.

He also noted one of the growing questions about drones, which are projected to number ion the millions in just a few years.

"You've got to respect people's privacy," Wasson said. "... And you can't shoot them down, it's like shooting down an airplane. You can't do that."