The FAA has unveiled a roadmap for introducing private drones operated by companies, universities, and even individual hobbyists to US skies by 2015—but the road might be a bumpy one. The agency, behind schedule on a deadline set by Congress, says it is working on very complicated regulations that will make it safe for unmanned aircraft to share the skies with manned ones and there could be 7,500 small drones aloft within five years, the Los Angeles Times reports. Some 24 states have applied to host tests during which federal safety inspectors can evaluate drones.
The roadmap does not address privacy concerns, except at the test sites, the AP notes, but even that mention shows the FAA now realizes "privacy is a necessary consideration," an expert in robotics law says "That is part of a change from when they were saying, 'We are not about privacy. We are really all about safety.'" For now, drone use will be approved on a case-by-case basis and the first FAA-approved commercial drone flight has already taken place: Oil firm ConocoPhillips flew a drone off northwest Alaska in September as part of a pre-drilling environmental impact study.