The use of unmanned aerial vehicles - commonly refered to as drones - has become an emotional issue, closely bound up with people's feelings about foreign policy, war and personal privacy.
It's clear that those feelings are hovering over the recent news that local officials are backing a bid to make northern Michigan a hub for UAV development. Officials have high hopes for the Michigan Advanced Aerial System Consortium. If the state's bid is successful, an area including Sawyer International Airport could become a prime national test and industrial center for drones. If that happens, some of the projects, technological development and investments land at Sawyer.
The consortium, launched last month downstate, is involving elected officials, government agencies, academia and industry.
Our area boasts several advantages which may help in attracting the drone center. Advanced radar systems at some regional airports, along with proximity to Canada and international testing opportunities are positives. A diverse climate, a mix of rural and urban areas and large bodies of water are other reasons the area may be desirable.
We think the drone initiative could be an opportunity for the region to get in on the early stages of what could grow into an important industry. Officials noted the U.S. Department of Defense budget includes $6 billion for unmanned aerial systems.
With potential investments like that at stake, we need to separate the development of drone technology from the argument over how it is used.
Revelations of ever-increasing government surveillance and intrusion into our personal lives worry us, but we understand drone technology isn't inherently scary or evil. Among the potential Upper Peninsula uses of drones which shouldn't trigger concerns over privacy would be security monitoring for the mining industry and mapping or surveying applications for the timber industry.
If the consortium bid succeeds, it doesn't mean more drones will be used for surveillance in the U.P., only that research and development on a range of new technologies may be based in our area.
That research is bound to happen. Why not conduct it here?