As is so often the case when it comes to rapidly evolving technologies, the law is struggling to keep up with the surge in popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In an attempt to pave the way for commercial, philanthropic, and civil use of small UAVs in the US and around the world, a number of players in the field have teamed up to form the Small UAV Coalition.

With 3DR, Aerialtronics, Airware, Amazon Prime, DJI Innovations, Google[x]'s Project Wing, GoPro, and Parrot as founding members, the Small UAV Coalition boasts some heavy hitters that have a vested interest in promoting the commercial and civil use of UAVs. The group is also looking to support recreational use of small UAVs for hobbyists.

To those ends, the organization's main goal is to develop an open regulatory process that ensures "safe, reliable, and timely operation of small UAVs." It is also pushing for regulatory changes to allow small UAVs to be operated beyond line-of-sight with varying degrees of autonomy.

The group classifies small UAVs as those weighing less than 55 lb (25 kg) and which typically fly at an altitude of under 400 ft (122 m) above ground level. They are also powered by rechargeable batteries and can be flown either manually via a remote control or autonomously using an automated program in the UAV.

"Small unmanned aerial vehicles will yield tremendous benefits to consumers in so many exciting and practical ways," said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition and senior advisor at Akin Gump, the Washington, DC law firm supporting the organization. "Small UAVs can be utilized for stunning aerial photography, surveying and mapping, advances in precision agriculture, consumer delivery, disaster management, journalism, and to monitor flare stacks and gas pipelines. In addition, the Small UAV Coalition will continue to support safe recreational enjoyment of UAVs for hobbyists and enthusiasts."

Drobac says the civil use of small UAVs will offer many benefits and promote US competitiveness. In addition to the FAA, the group will need to work with the FCC regarding the communications frequencies used by UAVs and the government and Congress on privacy issues.