NPR's Fresh Air

Drones Over America: What Can They See?

Editor's Note: The idea that thousands of drones could soon be flying over U.S. skies has become a polarizing issue since Pres. Obama signed a new aviation bill in February. In an interview with NPR's Fresh Air, John Villasenor discussed privacy and security concerns about drones, as well as how these unmanned aircraft systems work. Below is a portion of the transcript.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST: Well, John Villasenor, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, we think of drones as being military aircraft in use in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they really have all kinds of uses, don't they? What are some of the uses that you might see in the United States?

JOHN VILLASENOR: Well, there's a long list of uses. For example, they're obviously very useful for providing overhead surveillance, for policy departments, for example, if there's some sort of a criminal, like a hostage situation going on, I can imagine it could be very useful for that. Customs and border protection uses them to keep watch over the border.

They can used to spot wildfires, to inspect oil pipelines, construction sites, really an almost endless list of non-military uses.

DAVIES: Right, and those all sound like kind of responsible things that people would, you know, undertake to maintain security and the like. What about just simple commercial uses that might arise?

VILLASENOR: Certainly that, as well. For example, one application that you see sometimes is real estate firms, for example, wanted to get overhead images of a property just for advertising the property as part of a home sale. And again, for things like oil pipelines and things like that, operators of oil pipelines, commercial operators might use them for those purposes, as well.

Read the full transcript or listen to the show at NPR »