MINNEAPOLIS - For many people, the drone discussion has mostly come from Washington, but on the campus of the University of Minnesota, a group of researchers are tinkering with that discussion in their own way.
"Drone kind of implies to me you're taking the human out of the equation," said Brian Taylor. "We're really focused on the human."
Taylor is the director of the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle lab at the University of Minnesota, which has studied the issue of civilian drones or UAV's since 2005.
He hesitates calling UAV's drones simply because the context that usually follows.
"With drones, we tend to think of military use," said Taylor.
"These are just off the shelf airframes that you as a layman could purchase," he added as he pointed to a small airplane on his work bench.
But inside is a sophisticated computer system developed by his staff that can do all sorts of things. The plane then eventually makes its way into the sky for testing. And based on U of M research, the everyday applications are through the roof.
"Such as being able to fly an aircraft like this over a farmer's field and carry instruments and see how its crop is doing," he said.
Or monitor wildlife in places difficult for humans to get to at the fraction of the cost it would be for a manned aircraft.
Taylor also says GPS technology developed and the material used for the small planes could be used by commercial airliners in the future that would make the planes safer and environmentally friendly.
For example, Taylor says GPS can have technical glitches, so they're testing to see if cell phones and cameras attached to the UAV's could be used as a navigational device. And the material used on the plane could cut down on fuel costs.
Funding for this research comes from grants, including money from NASA.
"I know the Department of Transportation is looking at UAV's for surveying roadways so they can more efficiently see which roadways need repair," he said.
In other words, while Taylor believes a national conversation is needed on drones that discussion doesn't have to be all negative.
"These sorts of aircraft have many benefits for the state and the nation," he said.
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)