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Texas Drones: search, rescue and surveillance

One day, watching a drone deliver a package to your door could be as normal as waving hello to the mailman. At least that's what Amazon.com promises. That's just one example of how companies are trying to make drones a part of our daily lives. The technology is being developed right here in South Texas.

By EMILY BAUCUM
News 4 San Antonio
Facebook: Emily Baucum TV
Twitter: @EmilyBaucum

WIMBERLEY, Texas - "Turns out to be a nice day," drone manufacturer Gene Robinson says while walking to an isolated field.

Most of us have never seen a drone in person, but we're about to watch one fly.

"Launching in three, two one," Robinson says while throwing the drone into flight.

If you didn't know any better you'd think it was a buzzard circling the sky.

"See how nice and smooth that is," Robinson says as the drone lands.

We wanted to show you how drones work, how people use them and how someday drones might be a part of your life.

"Here we go," Robinson says while retrieving the drone from the field.

We found those answers deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, inside Robinson's workshop in Wimberley.

"The aircraft are made out of ABS," he says. "It's very strong. It's just like the bumper on your car. The wings are covered in fiber glass."

He manufactures drones with his own two hands.

"A standard point-and-click camera," Robinson says while placing the camera into the drone's cargo hold. "Weighs about four pounds," he says while picking up the whole aircraft.

Robinson used to earn a living flying big airplanes. Making drones started as a hobby. The newspaper clippings and poster on his wall - some faded, others still fresh - show the hobby grew into something Robinson never imagined.

"That we have been in contact with so many agencies is telling because it's a technology that many agencies want," Robinson says.

His company, R.P. Flight systems, works with Border Patrol, the Texas Rangers and local law enforcement.

Robinson helps them use his drone camera to capture high-resolution pictures over fires, mountains, fields and over water. They're usually looking for missing people.

"There it is, with a circle around it," Robinson points to his computer screen. "If you look very closely, you can see there's a tennis shoe down here and a T-shirt."

It's life-saving technology - in the right hands. But as drones become more affordable, Texas lawmakers are navigating the very real privacy concerns.

"There are already laws in place," Robinson says.

It's now illegal in Texas to use a drone to spy inside homes or on private property. That new law applies to everyone, even law enforcement.

"They can't take one of these airplanes and fly it over your field to see if there's anything else growing there unless a judge signs a warrant," Robinson says.

He sees all kinds of ways the average person can use drones, in good ways, like city planning or checking the roof of your home for hail damage.

"We're getting there. A little at a time, we're getting there," Robinson says. "The technology is coming. It's being trotted out and shown a little at a time so that people can understand it and be comfortable with it."

He says the major hold-up with drones hitting the mass market isn't because of privacy. The FAA is figuring out how to regulate all that air traffic so the drones don't fly into buildings or another airplane.

In the case of Amazon potentially delivering packages by drone, Robinson says there's technology available that adjusts a drone's flight path so it doesn't collide with another object. Amazon.com says it could have the systems in place by next year.

 
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