Entrepreneurs, state officials advocate for changes to federal rules on commercial drone use

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SALT LAKE CITY - Drones, the little flying machines commonly used in the military for carrying missiles or spying, are now being used for commercial purposes. Ryan Wood from Rocky Mountain Unmanned Systems talked about the many different functions of commercial drones.

"For example, for search and rescue, some of these can be outfitted with thermal camera, or infra-red, that can pick up a heat signature from a lost person," Wood said.

Marshall Wright from the Governor's Office of Economic Development said the governor's office hopes to expand the use of drones and change the laws banning them for commercial uses.

"These are people who have commercial operations," he said. "Very responsible people who want to be able to do and use unmanned systems in a responsible way."

The Governor's Office of Economic Development joined with Rocky Mountain Unmanned Systems, the Utah Film Commission and Utah Valley University to create the Mountain West Unmanned Systems Alliance. They're hoping to attract more businesses to join their group to put more drones to use in the commercial world.

"It's a mix of commercial filmmakers," Wood said. "Maybe construction companies want to inspect their construction sites, real estate agents who want aerial shots of their businesses. Potentially agricultural."

The Federal Aviation Administration announced in February it will soon change it's rules for the use of commercial drones as long as certain guidelines are followed. Wright said it's a step in the right direction and he's looking forward to more companies finding ways to use them.

"There is so many places we can use unmanned systems," Wright said. "This is a burgeoning industry."

Forbes magazine estimates the drone industry will have a $13.6 billion economic impact within three years after the FAA rules are adopted, with much of the impact benefiting entrepreneurs and small business owners.

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