This man wants you to know that not all drones are grey and drop bombs

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Not all drones are used for anti-terrorism or military purposes, but those who work with drones in other contexts could be excused for feeling unfairly tarnished by association. Patrick Egan is a self-described drone advocate who has been working in the industry for a decade. He says there is no question the technology is also being used for good.

Patrick Egan: Feeding a hungry world, private and public asset management, erosion studies, anti-poaching efforts, anti-deforestation -- and the list goes on and on and on. I call it a lotus flower technology, which just keeps giving.

Werman: I think people in Yemen and Pakistan would say drones are probably fairly disruptive as a technology. But of course it’s not only military uses. When you tell people you are a drone advocate, what type of reaction do you typically get?

Egan: It depends on who I am talking to. You can go and talk to people; I’ve been called ‘drone dealer’ and some other colorful titles. I was a little taken aback on that one. I’m like, hmmm, drone dealer, okay. I do think the militarized versions are what people have seen. And then there is some hyperbole out there where people think that people are horsing around with military-grade technology. Which is not really the case. A lot of this technology came out of the remote control hobby shop, right off the shelves there. And people were developing this technology to do commercial jobs, find fish, farming. I was doing aerial photography for construction projects, mainly high-rise condos and things like that.

Werman: I just met this guy last winter in New Hampshire who was using a multi-rotor helicopter to carry a camera up an ice cliff for the ice climbers, to see how the conditions are. Do you think reports on U.S. drone strikes, like the one Amnesty International released today, how does that actually affect the drone industry and people like you?

Egan: I think it has a negative effect. The general public, it’s funny, you ask people, ‘When I say drone, what do you think?’ and usually what I hear is, ‘It’s that gray thing with the bulbous nose that looks like a beluga whale with the missiles hanging off of it.’ That kind of image, it’s hard to combat. You say, here’s mine over here. I want to do good things with it. It’s kind of hard for them to understand that. Some military technologies just don’t overlay well in the civilian world.

Werman: You’re saying the technology is inherently innocuous, right?

Egan: Yes, from my view. It is weaponized. I think that’s here to stay, unfortunately. I have never been a proponent for weaponized, unmanned technology.

Werman: Drones, as you know, have this association with these negative uses by the military, as well as these big privacy issues. Drones staring in our backyards and bathroom windows. Don’t you think that a proper and open discussion about these two foibles of the system really need to be had before we universally endorse the whole technology?

Egan: Absolutely. I encourage a discussion and a discourse with everyone. And I even suggest maybe write up some SOPs, some Standard Operating Procedures. You can use it to do this and that, and you can’t use it to do this and that. It’s a privilege. And I would also say that I’m in favor of the Constitution and we have a fourth amendment. And if it constitutes a search, you need a search warrant. It’s that easy.

Werman: Patrick Egan, a drone advocate and an editor at the blog Small Unmanned Aerial Systems News. Patrick, thanks so much.

Egan: Thank you, Marco.