Thousands of small drones could take wing across the US following a Federal Aviation Administration decision next month. Police departments have been snapping up the unmanned aircraft, whose cameras could be used for everything from missing-person searches to catching drug dealers. Now law enforcement is waiting on the FAA to lay out rules for using the drones—guidelines that must be set by May 14 under a February law signed by President Obama.
The FAA must rule on how far and high the drones will be allowed to go, as well as who will be eligible to launch them. While backers cite a "public interest" in getting the drones off the ground as soon as possible, civil rights groups worry about invasive domestic surveillance and safety advocates say that ramming the guidelines through in the next two weeks will endanger other aircraft. Though the May 14 decision will apply only to police and first-responder drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds, the gadgets could someday be used for more mundane tasks like selling real estate and dusting crops, the Los Angeles Times notes. (Read more drones stories.)