It's a strange world where Martha Stewart gets to take pictures from a drone hundreds of feet in the air, while advanced aviation scientists at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University remain tethered to the ground by a 70-foot rope.
In an essay this past week for Time magazine, the nation's most famous (and felonious) domestic goddess waxed poetic about taking beach and home shots with her Parrot AR Drone 2.0, and posted pictures of her "Peter Rabbit marzipan embellished Easter cake" of a garden, taken by a drone owned by an employee.
As a hobbyist, Stewart can simply visit one of several websites selling drones, offer up her credit card and have a drone delivered in flight-ready mode. But the Federal Aviation Authority has slapped severe restrictions on law enforcement, businesses and many of the nation's top educational institutions that want to explore the possibilities of unmanned aircraft.
There are solid reasons to be cautious about such a rapidly evolving technology. Drones have limitless potential to benefit humans, in areas ranging from fire patrols to package deliveries. They could also seriously undermine Americans' expectations of privacy and safeguards against unreasonable searches.
But the ideal place to address those questions is at universities like Embry-Riddle, where students are eagerly signing up for classes related to unmanned aircraft, and the nation's top experts in aviation are building research programs around the potential of drones. Federal authorities currently allow public universities to apply for permission to operate drones, but shut out private institutions such as ERAU, Harvard and Stanford.
A letter to the FAA, signed by a group of professors at colleges across the nation, urged the agency to create rules allowing "responsible parties" to undertake drone research and education without unreasonable federal barriers.
The FAA should heed that request. Loosening the restrictions on drone education and research could un-tether new economic possibilities — not just for Embry-Riddle, but across the nation.
Copyright Daytona Beach News-Journal. Distributed by the Associated Press.