NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, young kids were enamored with radio-controlled (RC) vehicles.
Some found it even more exciting if those vehicles could fly, like RC planes and helicopters.
These primitive radio remote-controlled contraptions proved to be precursors to devices that are now classified officially as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s), which are sometimes referred to as drones.
The interest in drones over the past few years has skyrocketed, particularly after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – a federal agency that oversees the regulations on all flying activity – relaxed its rules for issuing certificates to future pilots.
This spurring of activity has not gone unnoticed, with both private citizens and government agencies increasingly making use of the technology.
As News 12 reported, the Secret Service launched a surveillance drone to provide added security during President Donald Trump’s vacation in Bedminster.
The Secret Service sent a privacy note to local residents that they will be testing the drone as they assess it’s capability to collect images from 300 to 400 feet in the air.
Local police departments are also looking into ways to utilize this new technology, including the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO).
During the June 1 meeting of the county's Board of Chosen Freeholders, the county agreed to spend $21,829 on "investigative equipment" from a company called FlyMotion.
According to the resolution, the Florida-based company is responsible for “furnishing and delivering of an unmanned aircraft system.”
When further pressed by New Brunswick Today, Freeholder Director Ronald Rios simply said that “it’s going to be used for investigations” without clarification on how exactly it will be implemented.
Further questions about the vehicle were referred to the prosecutor’s office, which did not respond to a request for comment.
As we reported, MCPO detectives attended a basic training orientation on the use of UAV's in August 2015.
However, it’s not just law enforcement that has seen an uptick in drone usage.
The Metuchen Fire Department recently sponsored a Drone Pilot Certification Test Prep Class for regular citizens that are interested in owning and flying a drone.
This class was offerred, in part, to give aspiring pilots a leg up in getting all the legal requirements out of the way for them to start flying successfully.
It was conducted by a local UAV Services firm called Drone Flight Services, which consists of professional drone pilots and experts in the policies and laws that currently regulate drone use for civilians as well as emergency responders.
Even private companies, like Amazon are jumping on the drone bandwagon. According to a CNN report, Amazon obtained a patent earlier this summer for building towers that would service drones to be used for delivering the company's products.
The patent application, first filed in 2015, includes an explanation of how employees would go about securing packages on the drones.
While Amazon’s program for deliveries via drone, dubbed Prime Air, has been in the works since 2013, this is yet another step towards utilizing the cutting-edge technology to further increase Amazon’s advantage by reducing the time in delivering packages from fulfillment centers to their customers.
Amazon has already completed its first delivery by drone in the U.K. in 2016. Amazon’s interest in is bound to push the industry ahead by promoting investment into research of drone technologies.
While the FAA contemplates the future of drone regulation, it is becoming clear that their use will continue to increase, particularly as the prices of the drones continue to drop.
Currently, New Jersey does not have any statewide laws in existence that cover the use of drones. And since the FAA is the only agency that can regulate airspace, local governments have little recourse for drone pilots who abuse their privileges.
However, local governments may be able to pass ordinances regarding privacy, noise concerns and speed restrictions since traditionally that falls under their jurisdiction.
Congress is currently considering a bill introduced earlier this year to increase the jurisdiction of local governments in oversight and regulation of the drone industry.
Drone companies themselves have been welcoming to new regulation since it would raise the bar for operators to fly safely, and allow the industry to grow responsibly.
They say that regulation would bring about clarification, transparency and an oversight infrastructure that does not exist as of yet.
According to MyCentralJersey.com's Nick Muscavage, there were 67 drone incidents in the last year alone in New Jersey.
Most observers are in agreement that oversight and regulation of the industry is a necessity, both for the law enforcement community using the technologies for investigations, as well as the general public who would like to use the drones for recreational use.
Commercial use, such as the type that Amazon is interested in applying will likely complicate things further.
While there are many challenges that still lie ahead before there is more widespread adoption of drones in the skies above us, with the advances in navigation and artificial intelligence technology, the future is not so far away.