Forget Jetpacks. Where’s My DIY Drone?

Border patrol bots, unmanned aerial pizza-delivery vehicles, and more UAVs coming soon to a sky near you.

Photos: Drones: Lt. Colonel Leslie Pratt/ US Air Force; Golfball: MyShotz/iStockphoto.com; Handcuffs: Floortje/iStockphoto.com; Pizza: MBPhoto/iStockphoto.com; Jonas Brothers: MTV2

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Unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t just raining missiles on Afghanistan and Pakistan—they’re coming to the skies near you. UAV makers are eager to launch their wares in US airspace, and everyone from cops to scientists to hobbyists wants one. The FAA is still figuring out how drones and planes can play nice, but the first domestic UAVs are already taking to the air. Below, some current and anticipated flight plans.

Eyes in the Skies The Border Patrol has 7 unarmed Predators, which it says have helped bust 15,000 lbs. of pot and 4,000 undocumented border crossers. HandcuffsIn 2003, the American Border Patrol, an Arizona anti-immigration group, launched its own UAV, the Border Hawk, to look for “invaders.”

Hanging Around AeroVironment says its Global Observer’s ability to “loiter” at 65,000 feet for a week makes it perfect for mapping, weather tracking, crop management…oh, and homeland security.

Air Spray Programmable unmanned choppers have been spraying Japanese crops since the early 1990s.

Golf Ball

Seeing Green The makers of the $17,000 Draganflyer X6 helicopter say it’s perfect for golf course owners who want “stunning pictures” of their fairways.

Drone Alone Private citizens can fly their own drones, so long as they stay below 400 feet. You can build your own for less than $500. Check out diydrones.com.

Hide and Seek In February, a British police UAV used thermal imaging to nab a suspected car thief—the UK’s first drone-assisted arrest. The Houston PD and the LA Sheriff have test flown UAVs, and the FBI has tested a model designed to fly down alleyways, tunnels, and ventilation shafts.

Unfriendly Skies Defense analysts warn that inexpensive UAVs could be “the ideal attack platform” for terrorists. In 2004, Homeland Security said it was watching for “suspicious persons” with an interest in remote-controlled aircraft.

Pizza

Special Delivery FedEx’s founder says the company would like to fly UAVs in the near future.
A NASA researcher predicts that we could soon see what Air & Space calls an “unmanned pizza delivery pod.”

Jonas Brothers

Bombs Away At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in May, President Obama warned the Jonas Brothers: “Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: Predator drones.”

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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