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Most people see drones as a controversial weapon prowling over foreign battlegrounds. But as America's military campaigns wind down, these machines are coming home and set to change civilian lives forever.
"This is a powerful technology. No amount of hand-wringing is going to stop it", says drone expert, Peter Singer. Whether it's a floating TV station streaming live to the web, the prying lens of the paparazzi, the police chasing a criminal or a government agency spying, small domestic drones are experiencing an exponential growth. At the world's largest drone convention in Las Vegas a salesman tells the crowd, "this can be used in law enforcement, disaster relief and industrial applications. It's also very good at dusting floors. Every home owner should have one". And as the technology advances at a frightening speed, anyone with a few hundred dollars can buy one over the counter. These hobby drones can fly for miles and provide sharp video feedback to the pilot. "I wouldn't cheat on your wife!", laughs columnist Charles Krauthammer. But jokes aside, there are real fears over the "political, legal and ethical issues that play out with this", argues Singer. In 3 years time an order from the US congress will see tens of thousands of drones legally occupy an already crowded sky, raising numerous questions about basic safety, terrorism and civil liberty. As companies rush to cash in on this new billion dollar industry, experts warn, "we're not ready for this".