(PI) Most of the public discussion surrounding the use of drones both internationally and domestically has focused on issues of privacy or civilian casualties. Due to the technical complexity of drone operations, there has been little media examination of the practical feasibility of widespread domestic drone deployment. In February, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012 was signed into law clearing the way for more than 30,000 domestic drones by 2020. The law requires the FAA to create procedures for commercially-operated drones by 2015 and enables law enforcement agencies to operate small-scale drones at low altitudes. While this has a number of negative implications for the right to privacy, such as the lack of any laws governing the usage of data collected via drones, the thought of a future where U.S. skies are filled with an array of drones has a much larger, more practical problem: is it even logistically possible to operate thousands of pilot-less aircraft in the domestic airspace?
The first set of problems that will likely plague any attempt at the widespread use of drones inside the U.S. relate to frequency allocation and electromagnetic interference (EMI). In order to be controlled from a remote location, drones must communicate via with a ground control station via some sort of data link. In order for this link to be maintained, there must be protection against electromagnetic interference that can disrupt the communications link. If the interference is sufficient in scale, it can lead to what is called a lost link event causing the drone to lose contact with its operator. Sometimes the link is reestablished and the pilot is able to maintain control of the drone. Sometimes the link cannot be reestablished and the drone is effectively turned into a zombie that can drift far from its intended target, as may have occurred recently with the RQ-170 captured by Iran in December 2011.
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