"Rule 1 for drones: ensure the benefit they provide to society is greater than the risk they pose." I don't see how drones of any significant weight can logically be allowed in any populated area unless they provide a significant benefit. Not only can they not sign up to the Laws of Robotics, they can't possibly maintain total situational awareness (what about that MediVac helicopter coming in from above to rescue someone from a car crash)? Add in unexpected failures (collision with an large unregulated bird, need to avoid human crowds during a crash when the remote electronics fail) and maintaining acceptable levels of safety become challenging.
There are all sorts of technical, ethical and legal issues involved here. I think we should proceed very carefully by granting licenses on a limited scale (limited area and time span) for law enforcement and environment protection authorities. 4-5 years from this, we can perhaps start discussing widening the circle.
PS. I also think public representatives from local communities must be involved in the granting of licenses...
There certainly are plenty of good non-war applications for pilot-less aircraft in the US. Pipeline inspection as well as railroad inspection come to mind. Wild fire spotting was mentioned in the article. With the right sensor package, search and Rescue could also benefit.
Unfortunately, these and all of the others may very well put pilots out of a job. But as with other technologies, such replacement of humans will happen whether we like it or not.
There also a huge difference between a 10lb small plane and a 1,000lb monster when they fall out of the sky. Regulation can be a lot simpler when the pilot is sitting in the plan and risking his life, it tends to moderate the risk.
Lots more to this than warfare... The real question is when does it move from a "model airplane" type of regulatory situation and into a "professional use" type of regulatory situation. Unintended consequences could have the FAA creating a situation where hobbyists can no longer fly model airplanes, rockets, helicopters, multi rotors, etc.
Is the difference when a camera is placed on board? Or when they can fly further than x miles semi-autonomously? Or is it an altitude thing? What exactly is in the public safety? I hope there isn't a knee jerk reaction by the FAA...this needs to be carefully thought out.