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Wed Apr 16 06:18:53 SAST 2014

Drones: the future of war and viticulture

©The Daily Telegraph | 26 August, 2013 00:36
US Air Force handout image of a Predator drone
. Air Force shows a MQ-1 Predator drone
Image by: HANDOUT / Reuters

Just like its Reaper and Predator cousins, it can scour remote valleys for hours on end, relaying vital information back to base.

But rather than the mountains of Afghanistan or Yemen, the remote-controlled Stardust drone is more likely to be found over the lush valleys of southern America - not to monitor cocaine plantations or hunt down drug lords but to provide winemakers with up- to-date-images showing them the state of their grapes.

"When people think of drones they think of Hellfire missiles," said Juan Sainz, head of Idetec Unmanned Systems, one of dozens of companies at this month's annual drone industry conference and expo in Washington.

"One day, we want them to think of drones and think of cabernet sauvignon."

The drone world's answer to the UK's Farnborough Airshow, the drones expo showcased an industry already worth billions of dollars in the US and which has a future in everything from agriculture and the media to law enforcement and transport.

In the military corner of the show were state-of-the-art killing machines such as the Reapers and Predators, the missile-carrying executioners that have become leading weapons in the war on terror.

Elsewhere, though, were the likes of the Stardust, a delicate-looking bright orange device that looks like a child's model aircraft, and a variety of "octocopters" - tiny eight-rotor helicopters that can hover in urban environments.

In one form or another, such drones might soon be the best option for everything from crop dusting and aerial cinema shots to looking for illegal immigrants at border crossings.

Last week a German inventor unveiled a drone that would carry a defibrillator to heart attack victims in remote areas. The defibrillator would be activated by emergency services paramedics or if need be remotely by means of a cellphone app.

For now, at least, US officials are maintaining strict controls on the use of unmanned aircraft over America's skies.

Companies are banned from using drones for commercial purposes and even police forces must pass strict tests before being granted a licence to deploy them. Remotely controlled aircraft must remain below 180m and cannot leave their operator's line of sight.

But all this is expected to change in 2015, the deadline the US Congress has given the Federal Aviation Authority to figure out how to integrate unmanned aircraft into one of the world's most complex national airspaces.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International , which hosted the conference, predicts the industry will be worth around $80-billion by 2025.

Among those hoping to cash in on what he predicts will be a "goldrush" is octocopter manufacturer Joshua Kornoff, 36, who has spent more than a decade in Hollywood as a special effects engineer, working on the Jason Bourne action film trilogy and on music videos for artists such as Madonna and Metallica.

He invested his savings to start his own company, Allied Drones.

"Today we've had inquiries from businesses, from law enforcement and from guys who won't say who they work for."

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Wed Apr 16 06:18:53 SAST 2014 ::