Everyone knows by now that Americans aren't thrilled about the use of domestic drones. So if you're a government agency and decide to invest many thousands of taxpayer dollars on surveillance drones, it'd be good if you checked to see if you can actually fly them first.
The treehuggers at the United States Forest Service did not follow this protocol. According to information just revealed thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, the agency spent $100,000 on a pair of SkySeer drones to keep an eye on marijuana farmers in Northern California. The only problem is they didn't do their research first, and incorrectly assumed that there were "no known regulatory barriers" to flying the drones.
Well, there are regulatory barriers. The Federal Aviation Adminsitration, for one, bars the use of domestic drones by anyone who doesn't have specific permission—which the Forest Service does not—and the use of drones out of an operator's eyeshot. As you might imagine, it's hard to see drones in the air from a forest floor. While the FAA is expected to release new rules on the use of domestic drones in a few years, odds are the Forest Service's 2007 models will be obsolete by then.
It's unclear at this point whether or not the Forest Service will ever use the drones. They recently scrapped plans to use them in Montana and norther Idaho earlier this year. In the meantime, the spies in the sky bought in this $100,000 boondoggle will continue to gather dust in a basement somewhere. [Fire Aviation]