Drone conference tries to assuage fears of domestic use

The Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference was held at New York University Friday and it has been a trying period for defenders of the drone. Public perception has been shaped in large part by the Obama administration’s use of drones in counterterrorism efforts, and civil liberties advocates have long decried the drone’s seemingly boundless capacity to restrict privacy. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/12/nyregion/at-conference-on-drones-talk-of-morals-and-toys.html?ref=world

Then there was the blemish for local hobbyists last week, when a drone was said to have crashed near Grand Central Terminal, narrowly missing a pedestrian.
And so, at times on Friday, the forum seemed equal parts acknowledgment of the technology’s perils and a self-affirmation exercise for its proponents, who have cited the potential of drones to improve agriculture practices and monitor endangered species, among other applications.
Speakers appeared intent on softening the drone’s image — likening it to a kite, a cellphone, a pet on a leash.
The checkered reputation of drones remained the day’s subtext. An organizer of the conference, in his introduction to Professor Kaag’s presentation, wondered if drone supporters had been “drinking some kind of unmanned Kool-Aid.”

In front of the building where the conference was held, across the street from Washington Square Park, a group called the Granny Peace Brigade staged a small protest featuring a replica of a drone.
“Drones explode people and do not help us make friends,” read a sign held by Alice Sturm Sutter, 65, from Washington Heights.
Ms. Sutter, who worked in a medical tent in Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, said she feared that expanded drone use could allow the Police Department to target activists. (The police were later summoned on Friday when the protesters refused to move down the sidewalk, away from the building entrance, as directed by university security.

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