Aloha, drones: hawaiians wellcome and fear flying robots

When Raynald Bédard thinks of the sweeping green slopes of Hawaii’s Big Island, especially its coffee plantations, he believes there is something missing: drones.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo specialist faculty member refers to them as remotely piloted aircraft systems and is convinced that the flying robots — which have, controversially, become a staple of modern armies, notably the United States’ — have a key role to play in Hawaii’s agricultural sector.

The university was recently granted a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificate of authorization that allows for the operation of drones. Bédard, who is starting a drone testing program, envisions drones flying high above Hawaii’s farms to gather vital crop data, which could then be analyzed and sold to farmers. “It’s just like somebody that cleans your pool or cuts your grass on a monthly basis. I see the same kind of model here,” he said. “I see it as a service.”

He’s already in contact with state agencies eager to use drones to monitor native plants and with farmers to check on crops like bananas and macadamia nuts. Bédard said some of the greatest promise for drones in Hawaii is for small farmers and large biotech companies that grow genetically modified crops.

“[Hawaii] is awesome for testing … The farmers are crying for this technology. They’re primed, they’re ready, they want it. We could keep busy for the next 10 years just here on the island,” he said.

Bédard is not the only one dreaming of drones over Hawaii. Interest is expressed by everyone from surf enthusiasts and real estate agents to scientists, conservation groups and tech-savvy entrepreneurs to politicians eager to attract aerospace dollars.

The military, which has a history of testing drones in the islands, is eager to see Hawaii experience a new kind of buzz. (According to the most conservative figures from the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been at least 449 drone strikes and 2,599 associated deaths in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia through mid-March 2014.)

But not everyone is pleased. While many welcome drones to the islands, others are seeking to ban or limit their use.

Source: America Aljazeera

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