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Where Are the Drones That Could Be Saving Puerto Rico?

• https://www.wired.com

With the crisis in Puerto Rico unfolding—and expanding—daily in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the scale of the devastation is coming into horrifying focus. It's not just that the American territory has been, by many accounts, "destroyed." It's that crucial relief supplies aren't reaching the island.

"We are dying here," San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Crus said Friday. "And I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles." The hurricane savaged local ports, airports, railroads, and roads. Getting food, water, and medicine to and throughout Puerto Rico is a "logistical nightmare," former FEMA boss Michael Brown told CNBC.

Which brings up the question: Where are the drones that could pick up the slack? We're now decades into the age of unmanned aviation. Military drones whisk across oceans to spy on enemies and launch missiles. Amazon, FedEx, and their ilk are clamoring for the right to deliver running shoes and pizza to your front lawn via quadcopters.

Just this spring, the US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory showed off a disposable one-way drone. The glider launches out of a cargo plane, carries up to 700 pounds of cargo, has a range of 80 miles, and can land within 150 feet of its target. The Marines say these Tactical Air Delivery drones would cost as little as $1,500 to $3,000 per copy.

"It's not just about a fancy camera and about the data, but it's also about how the technology can be used as force multipliers," says Brett Velicovich, a former military intelligence officer who consults on drone adoption. "If the roads are down and there aren't enough helicopters out there, we should be using drones to do the work. This is not sci-fi technology. It exists now."

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