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How drones made in Maine could change how we live

For more than a decade, Americans have become accustomed to images of and those.

While still a common tool in the fight against terrorism, drones are adapting to civilian life. Drones have prompted much debate and concern about how this technology will be used. Americans are particularly concerned about domestic surveillance by police and privacy violations by airborne Peeping Toms.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates more than 7,500 commercial drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, will take to the sky before the decade is out. These UAVs may be a source of economic growth in the next decade.

Christopher Taylor is CEO of, which manufactures a variety of UAVs. The Gorham based company is the only UAV manufacturer in Maine. Air Force, Taylor has been working with UAVs since 2005 and first went commercial with his product in 2012. He is a strong believer in the nascent industry and what it can do in Maine.

“UAVs can change how we live,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s UAVs can be used for search and rescue, fire fighting, and monitoring gas and oil industry facilities. Aside from their potential for public safety, UAVs have found use in photography, film, real estate and agriculture.

But for the most part, UAV use in Maine has yet to take off.

“Our use of [UAVs] is behind in the state of Maine,” Taylor said.

Tight federal restrictions have grounded commercial UAV use nationwide, although use for public safety and recreation is allowed. The FAA is expected to relax commercial restrictions and open the national airspace to UAVs in 2015.

Even though UAVs have yet to be broadly used in Maine, many traditional industries could benefit from their application, especially agriculture. Taylor said agricultural applications are bound to have the most impact in the state.

“Technology helps farmers to better manage their crops,” he said, and UAVs will not be an exception. “Within the next year or so, the economic impact in this state will be huge.”

Last year, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a Virginia based nonprofit, released an examining the potential stimulus of UAVs. The report predicted that between 2015 and 2025, UAVs will contribute $82 billion to the economy and create 103,776 jobs. Aside from manufacturing jobs, traditional industries will employ people to operate UAVs and meet the needs of expanding operations. Other jobs would be created through increased commerce near UAV manufacturing facilities and businesses deploying UAVs.

According to the report, agriculture will fuel most of this growth, contributing $75.6 billion to the economy.

in the first year will be $18 million in direct and indirect UAV contributions, with 183 jobs created. Over a decade, the total economic impact will be $79 million, with 810 jobs created as a result of incorporating UAVs into traditional industries, the report said.

As with other technological advances, increased efficiency may displace some jobs. The economic report even acknowledges that some jobs may be lost as a result of UAV adoption, although the predicted gains are supposed to outpace losses.

“The human is always in the loop,” said Melanie Hinton, senior communications manager for the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The economic report describes its findings as fairly conservative, not taking into account revenue generated by maintenance and assuming a minimal benchmark for UAV sales, which the report argues may exceed its estimates. When asked about the report’s estimates and characterization, Taylor said that “it’s fairly accurate.”

With commercial use waiting for permission to fly, however, it’s not immediately clear how the industry will grow and at what rate. According to, CNN estimated the UAV industry to be worth $7.5 billion, a 100 percent increase from its 2007 value of $3.75 billion. military spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It isn’t immediately clear if commercial spending will continue the trend set by the military. But Hinton said the association expects commercial spending “will eclipse the military.”

What will drive economic growth on Maine farms is UAVs can simplify operations and are cheap to operate. Flying a UAV is faster, easier and cheaper than hiring a pilot to fly a helicopter or plane, Taylor said.

Many cameras, sensors and GPS devices can be affixed to a UAV, which expands its utility for farmers. For example, cameras such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, which indicates where live vegetation lies by measuring reflected near infrared light. Such technology has been used to determine crop yields and health, which, Taylor said, can help a farmer to direct water and pesticide usage in problem areas to increase yield.

“If we can help one farmer support his family better, than we’ve done our job,” Taylor said.

In 2012, Congress tasked the FAA with establishing the regulations needed to safely integrate UAVs into the national airspace. The FAA Reform and Modernization Act set the deadline for Sept. 30, 2015. Until then, a moratorium has effectively grounded commercial use of UAVs, which can be subject to.

“If you use an aircraft and you receive something for that service, that is considered a commercial application,” Taylor said, adding that includes crops grown with UAV assistance.

Since July, the FAA has eased restrictions and allowed a number of UAVs to take to the sky under Section 333 of the FAA Reform and Modernization Act, which allows commercial groups to petition for exemption from regulations prohibiting unmanned flights. Documents obtained from the FAA revealed more than 40 groups have petitioned for Section 333 exemption, including nine with the expressed purpose of engaging in agricultural use. None are in Maine.

Meanwhile, some states have taken up the matter, primarily to pre empt privacy violations.

Last year, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed, a bill to regulate police cheap jerseys use of UAVs, saying it would hurt valuable aerospace jobs that could come to Maine.

Taylor praised LePage’s veto. While the bill targeted police use of UAVs, Taylor’s concern was that vague wording would have harmed the growth of aerospace jobs in Maine.

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