It’s no secret that drones have already soared well beyond the realms of the military and hobbyists. New commercial uses for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being found every day, from cell tower inspections to agricultural applications to media coverage. Two and a half million drones were sold in 2016, and the Federal Aviation Administration expects the number of commercial drones to increase tenfold by 2021. That kind of growth is likely to be true as well for non-military uses at all levels of government.
For government, UAVs present not only an opportunity but also a procurement challenge. Given the rapid evolution of both the technology and the regulatory environment, purchasing a drone is a far cry from buying police cruisers, desktop computers or office furniture. With these complexities in mind, the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) recently published guidance for its members as they move into the new world of UAV procurement.
One reason such guidance is needed is that drones have so many potential and differing uses for government. Public safety is certainly going to be high on the list, for everything from traffic monitoring to surveying storm damage to prison surveillance to assessing how best to extinguish a fire. In wildlife management, UAVs can help track animal populations and migration, and they can monitor for illegal hunting. Drones can help with safety inspections of power lines, pipelines, roads and bridges. They can be invaluable for hurricane and tornado research.