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MSU hosts leaders in unmanned aviation

May 16, 2012


Mike Toscano doesn’t like to call them “drones.”

Call them unmanned aerial vehicles, but don’t call them drones, Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles International, said at Colvard Student Union Tuesday. When people hear the word “drone,” he said they think only of the machine and not of the human team operating the machine from afar.

“There is a human being in the loop,” Toscano said.
Toscano and other UAV luminaries came to Mississippi State University to discuss the field’s possibilities Tuesday and Wednesday at the Unmanned Aerial Systems Symposium.

The keynote speaker at the symposium was Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with the U.S. Air Force. Poss said Mississippi is a good location to discuss UAVs and grow the industry because the state has a long history of ingenuity in aviation and a strong connection to the Air Force. Poss himself grew up in Ocean Springs.

“We are the nation’s training base,” Poss said. “Roughly a quarter of all (Air Force) pilots have been trained in Columbus.”

Air Force representatives once claimed their forces could hit a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet, Poss said. Where such targeting was a challenge then, Poss said it is now possible to not only hit a pickle barrel easily but also hit a pickle barrel on the move.

To use a more concrete example, Poss said it took 12 hours to deliver a single picture from Germany to the U.S. Navy in 1982. Modern UAVs, by contrast, deliver 30-frames-per-second video anywhere on earth within two seconds, he said.

“That’s not to say we’re not without our challenges,” Poss said. “We are literally swimming in sensors and drowning in data. (With future technology currently in development,) we will collect about 320 years’ worth of HD video per day. (Data is) useless if we can’t retrieve it.”
Toscano said UAVs also face challenges on the home front. Privacy is one of the American populace’s largest concerns about UAVs, he said, which is why greater awareness of how UAV units work with law enforcement agencies is needed.

“There are people that think these are spy drones,” Toscano said. “There are rules and regulations put in place today. If people don’t like those laws ... that’s what they should be concerned about.”

Toscano said instead of thinking of UAVs as autonomous drones, Americans should think of them as extra tools for military and law enforcement personnel to use. Instead of using UAVs for new initiatives to spy on the public at large, he said, enforcers use UAVs to do the jobs they normally do better than they have before.

For instance, he said, where a police force might have to call off a search for a missing person due to weather or manpower limitations, a UAV can continue searching.

Another fear, Toscano said, is UAVs could bring job losses like other technological advances.

The UAV industry will need to turn those job losses into job shifts, he said, by training those who lose jobs to UAVs to take up the jobs UAVs create.

“You know how many jobs have been lost because of the Internet,” Toscano said. “The U.S. Postal Service is closing down 2,000 offices. Time and distance has now been erased.

You no longer have middlemen you have to go through to buy something. I don’t mean to scare you today (but) this is a reality check; these systems are coming fast and furious to help us,” Toscano added. “There are going to be jobs that are lost in there as well, but hopefully those jobs will be shifting.”

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