Police departments across the country have bought inexpensive small drone aircraft with cameras to help track drug dealers, find missing children and locate wandering Alzheimer’s patients, but federal rules designed to protect the nation’s airspace have kept them grounded.
That is about to change in a dramatic way.
Under a law President Obama signed in February, the Federal Aviation Administration must write rules by May 14 on how it will license police, fire department and other public safety agencies eager to fly lightweight drones at low altitudes.
The FAA also is supposed to develop plans by this year to integrate drones operated by individuals or corporations into U.S. airspace by 2015.
The bottom line: Thousands of remotely piloted aircraft of various shapes, sizes and speeds — at least some carrying high-resolution cameras and sophisticated sensors — may soon be buzzing overhead.