Maryland cuts ribbon for drone testing site

CALIFORNIA, Md. (WUSA9) -- The University of Maryland cut the ribbon Tuesday on one of the first sights in the country where private companies will be able to test drones.

Unmanned choppers are already lifting heavy cargo and supplying troops in Afghanistan, but the FAA and Justice Department are taking a while to weigh the risks and privacy issues of flying commercial drones in the U.S.

When the FAA promelgates regulations for light commercial drones next year, Maryland wants to be ready. The University of Maryland cut the ribbon on the unmanned aircraft systems test site at St. Mary's airport in Southern Maryland.

"The potential is unbelievable in terms of economic growth in the region. I mean, we could become in effect, the Silicon Valley for autonomous vehicles," said William "Britt" Kirwan, Chancellor, Univ. System of Md.

They may look like toys, but advocates say the possibilities are sky high, from news gathering to agriculture to package delivery. Advocated say drones could be a $90 billion industry by the end of the decade

"The first use of this airplane is for search of air space of how you integrate robots and humans together in the air space."

One of the first tenants at the test site was Aurora Flight Sciences and its centaur aircraft, which can be flown by a human pilot or by a robot.

John Lanford says drones have the potential to change our lives as much as cell phones and GPS.

Like the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, it all has to start some place.


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