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Last fall ULM began offering the state’s first concentration in Unmanned Aircraft Systems

A House committee rejected legislation Tuesday that had been passed by the Senate to ban certain activities involving flying drones.

Just a few weeks ago, the Board of Regents voted to authorize an initial one-year program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe to create an unmanned aircraft research center.

While the two efforts appeared to be working at cross purposes, SB 330 by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, would have carved out an exemption for agriculture, which is also be the focus of the ULM program — clumsily named the Precision Agriculture and Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research and Applications Center. Monroe has a history with aviation start-ups, as it is the birthplace of Delta Air Lines.

According to the authorization plan approved by the Board of Regents, it’s estimated that 80 percent of commercial drone use in the nation will be in the agriculture field, with a $200 million impact in Louisiana during the first two years after the Federal Aviation Administration eases operating regulations.

Funding for ULM is expected to come from federal, state and private grants. Planned applications include overhead crop photography and crop spraying, with possible future uses for the cattle and timber industries, university officials say.

Claitor’s so-called DRONE Act would have prohibited, excluding some 18 categories, unmanned aircraft owned by the government or independent parties from surveilling or photographing private property.

The bill was opposed by several media outlets, who said journalists and others should have the ability to use the new technology.

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