Already a testing ground for drones, Colo. wants contract to expand

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(Photo: Courtesy of Univ. Colorado Boulder/Jack Elston)
<p>The Tempest unmanned aircraft system returning from a supercell thunderstorm mission near McCook, Neb., in June 2010. Drones are helping the University of Colorado research severe weather over the Great Plains.</p>

This month the Federal Aviation Administration is choosing six sites that will be official testing areas for drones and a coalition led by the University of Colorado is waiting to hear if they have been selected.

Advocates see this as a big opportunity to attract new business to the state but privacy concerns related to drones persist.

The number of industries that could use drones seems to grow all the time: Amazon recently announced it's developing technology to deliver packages via the unmanned aircrafts.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office is already using drones for law enforcement and Brian Argrow of the aerospace engineering department at the University of Colorado says the school has already flown more drones that the U.S. military, sometimes for monitoring climate and weather patterns.

But the use of drones is still illegal in most places because the federal government hasn’t decided how to regulate them.

The selection of six test sites is meant to help the government set the rules for drones.

Argrow says that the FAA has been mandated by Congress to do this by 2015 and the agency will need to collect data to find out how reliable drones.

"It’s the same as with manned aircrafts: you have to have the planes certified to standards that the FAA has set," Argrow says.

Argrow won't say where exactly what parts of Colorado could be part of the test site but it's been reported that Mesa County and the Colorado Springs area are included and the proposal includes at least some of the airspace over the Rockies.

Elsewhere in Colo., opposition to drones has been fierce.

The town of Deer Trail on the Eastern Plains is considering whether to allow hunters to shoot down drones flying over the town but decided last week to delay a vote on the matter until the spring.

Meanwhile, concerns about privacy related to drones persist in the community.

Argrow says those privacy concerns are legitimate and oftentimes technology gets ahead of policy but the government does need to make sure privacy laws are adequate.

Additionally, Argrow calls the idea of shooting down a drone "ridiculous."

The FAA says it will announce the six test sites by December 31.