Last year's crash of a $6.5 million Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, and the safety concerns it raised, is not going to stop Homeland-security from expanding the use of the drones for border patrol applications. The Arizona Republic is reporting that two Predator B robots, which have cameras and other sensors that help operators search for smugglers, are currently working the border with Mexico, but by next year that should increase to six. This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled that human error caused the April 2006 crash. The operator at the time, who was trying to manipulate the camera, accidentally shut off the plane's engine. Yes, I'd call it human error. You really can't blame that one on the robot.
One NTSB official said the fact that the group came up with 22 suggestions for improving the safety of these UAV operations suggests that there are some real issues to deal with here. Clearly, training the handlers on the ground is one of them.—Gregory Mone
(Image credit: National Transportation Safety Board)