Drone makers struggle for acceptance

By David Uberti

WASHINGTON — The Danvers-based drone manufacturer CyPhy Works doesn’t build flying robots that rain Hellfire missiles on people or record license plate numbers from 40,000 feet. Its drones are designed for peaceful missions — aerial inspections of buildings and bridges, or observing crime scenes.

But CyPhy and other manufacturers are battling the negative images of better-known military drones as they struggle to win public and political acceptance for commercially marketed drones for domestic airspace. The consequences are significant for a nascent industry that claims the potential to create 70,000 US jobs by 2017, including 2,000 in Massachusetts.

The use of drones to combat terrorism overseas is attracting increasingly negative attention in Washington. President Obama is considering taking its lethal drone program away from the Central Intelligence Agency and placing it in the hands of the Pentagon, which has greater restrictions and accountability.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, including Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a candidate for Senate, are introducing legislation to limit how drones can be used by law enforcement, firefighters, farmers, the media, and others in American skies.

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