The use of drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) by the United States military has spurred debate over legal, political and moral concerns. These same technologies are now expanding into the civilian sphere and are raising more questions.

On December 14, the Leonardo in Salt Lake City and the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR) will host a Leonardo After Hours event, Rise of the Drones: The questions and possibilities. This free public event will focus on UAS and the impact that they may have throughout the U.S., from environmental monitoring, to law enforcement, and even news reporting. The event is presented with assistance from the Mountain West chapter of AUVSI, which is the leading advocate for unmanned systems.

Although the current use of UAS in the U.S. is limited to public safety agencies, universities and other entities that receive special waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration, they have potential to expand to a variety of industries. These uses range from manufacturing, aerospace, transportation, agriculture production, natural resource management, and certainly to homeland security.

“Taking advanced military technology and using it for various civil and commercial applications, such as emergency relief, is an emerging opportunity,” said Marshall Wright, director of business development for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). “These applications of UAS have the potential to create a large number of long-lasting, high-paying jobs.”

Utah has one of the nation’s leading UAS testing sites at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, located in Utah’s west desert. In addition, the state has a vibrant and developing UAS and aerospace industry with companies such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin located along the Wasatch Front. Wright also noted this industry is seeing increased entrepreneurial activity in Utah and is demonstrating strong potential in the market for start-up companies to develop and thrive.

December’s Leonardo After Hours will have a discussion with special guest experts, Craig Bryan, associate director for the National Center for Veterans Studies, Randy Dryer, visiting Professor of Law for the University of Utah, Peter Dittmer, the department chair for Aviation Science at Utah Valley University (UVU), and Thomas Sturtevant, associate dean for the College of Aviation and Public Services at UVU.

The panel, along with the general public, will discuss the questions that still need to be answered about these technologies as we bring them into everyday American life. The discussion will also focus on how civil society can reap the benefits, while avoiding possible missteps associated with broadening of UAS into civilian airspace.

This session on UAS technology is not the first time Leonardo After Hours has discussed a hot-button issue. The event is held quarterly and focuses on topics within science and technology and their impact on society. They have covered a wide range of topics including computer security, personalized medicine, and the future of energy.

“The idea of Leonardo After Hours is to reach the public who are intrigued and interested about current science and technology topics and want to learn more,” said Michael O’Malley, GOED marketing director. “The goal is to have a discussion on topics from different perspectives so our audience can make their own judgments. This is about the coolest thing thinking people can do on a Friday night.”

Leonardo After Hours is free to the public, but an RSVP is required. Refreshments will be served and a cash bar will be available. To RSVP or for more information about the Leonardo or Leonardo After Hours visit: http://goo.gl/qHuhi