A far cry from the killing machines whose missiles incinerate terrorists, these generally small, unmanned aircraft will help farmers more precisely apply water and pesticides to crops, saving money and reducing environmental impacts. They'll help police departments find missing people, reconstruct traffic accidents and act as lookouts for SWAT teams. They'll alert authorities to people stranded on rooftops by hurricanes and monitor evacuation flows.
Real estate agents will use them to film videos of properties and surrounding neighborhoods. States will use them to inspect bridges, roads and dams. Oil companies will use them to monitor pipelines, while power companies use them to monitor transmission lines.
With military budgets shrinking, drone makers have been counting on the civilian market to spur the industry's growth. But there's an ironic threat to that hope: Success on the battlefield may contain the seeds of trouble for the more benign uses of drones at home.
The civilian unmanned aircraft industry worries that it will be grounded before it can really take off because of fear among the public that the technology will be misused. Also problematic is a delay in the issuance of government safety regulations that are needed before drones can gain broad access to U.S. skies.
Some companies that make drones or supply support equipment and services say the uncertainty has caused them to put U.S. expansion plans on hold, and they are looking overseas for new markets.
"Our lack of success in educating the public about unmanned aircraft is coming back to bite us," said Robert Fitzgerald, CEO of The BOSH Group of Newport News, Va., which provides support services to drone users.
"The U.S. has been at the lead of this technology a long time," he said. "If our government holds back this technology, there's the freedom to move elsewhere ... and all of a sudden these things will be flying everywhere else and competing with us."
Since January, drone-related legislation has been introduced in more than 30 states, largely in response to privacy concerns. Many of the bills are focused on preventing police from using drones for broad public surveillance, as well as targeting individuals for surveillance without sufficient grounds to believe they were involved in crimes.
Law enforcement is expected to be one of the bigger initial markets for civilian drones. Last month, the FBI used drones to maintain continuous surveillance of a bunker in Alabama where a 5-year-old boy was being held hostage.
In Virginia, the state General Assembly passed a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by state and local law enforcement. The measure is supported by groups as varied as the American Civil Liberties Union on the left and the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation on the right.
Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing amendments that would retain the broad ban on spy drones but allow specific exemptions when lives are in danger, such as for search-and rescue operations. The legislature reconvenes on April 3 to consider the amendments.
"Any legislation that restricts the use of this kind of capability to serve the public is putting the public at risk," said Steve Gitlin, vice president of AeroVironment, a leading maker of smaller drones, including some no bigger than a hummingbird
Seattle abandoned its drone program after community protests in February. The city's police department had purchased two drones through a federal grant without consulting the city council.
Drones "clearly have so much potential for saving lives, and it's a darn shame we're having to go through this right now," said Stephen Ingley, executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association. "It's frustrating."
In some states economic concerns have trumped public unease. In Oklahoma, an anti-drone bill was shelved at the request of Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who was concerned it might hinder growth of the state's drone industry. The North Dakota state Senate killed a drone bill in part because of concern that it might impede the state's chances of being selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of six national drone test sites, which could generate local jobs.
A bill that would have limited the ability of state and local governments to use drones died in the Washington legislature. The measure was opposed by The Boeing Co., which employs more than 80,000 workers in the state and which has a subsidiary, Insitu, that's a leading military drone manufacturer.
Although the Supreme Court has not dealt directly with drones, it has OK'd aerial surveillance without warrants in drug cases in which officers in a plane or helicopter spotted marijuana plants growing on a suspect's property. But in a case involving the use of ground-based equipment, the court said police generally need a warrant before using a thermal imaging device to detect hot spots in a home that might indicate that marijuana plants are being grown there.
In Congress, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., co-chairman of the House's privacy caucus, has introduced a bill that prohibits the Federal Aviation Administration from issuing drone licenses unless the applicant provides a statement explaining who will operate the drone, where it will be flown, what kind of data will be collected, how the data will be used, whether the information will be sold to third parties and the period for which the information will be retained.
Sentiment for curbing domestic drone use has brought the left and right together perhaps more than any other recent issue. "The thought of government drones buzzing overhead and constantly monitoring the activities of law-abiding citizens runs contrary to the notion of what it means to live in a free society," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said at a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Privacy advocates acknowledge the many good uses of drones. In Mesa County, Colo., for example, an annual landfill survey using manned aircraft cost about $10,000. The county recently performed the same survey using a drone for about $200.
But drones' virtues can also make them dangerous, they say. Their low cost and ease of use may encourage police and others to conduct the kind of continuous or intrusive surveillance that might otherwise be impractical. Drones can be equipped with high-powered cameras and listening devices, and infrared cameras that can see people in the dark.
"High-rise buildings, security fences or even the walls of a building are not barriers to increasingly common drone technology," Amie Stepanovich, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Council's surveillance project, told the Senate panel.
Civilian drone use is limited to government agencies and public universities that have received a few hundred permits from the FAA. A law passed by Congress last year requires the FAA to open U.S. skies to widespread drone flights by 2015, but the agency is behind schedule and it's doubtful it will meet that deadline. Lawmakers and industry officials have complained for years about the FAA's slow progress.
The FAA estimates that within five years of gaining broader access about 7,500 civilian drones will be in use.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., recently drew attention to the domestic use of drones when he staged a Senate filibuster, demanding to know whether the president has authority to use weaponized drones to kill Americans on American soil. The White House said no, if the person isn't engaged in combat. But industry officials worry that the episode could temporarily set back civilian drone use.
"The opposition has become very loud," said Gitlin of AeroVironment, "but we are confident that over time the benefits of these solutions (drones) are going to far outweigh the concerns, and they'll become part of normal life in the future."
--- Associated Press writer Michael Felberbaum in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM (AP) - Hundreds of pilgrims have walked the traditional Good Friday procession in Jerusalem's Old City that retraces Jesus' steps.
They hoisted wooden crosses, chanting prayers to mark the crucifixion of Jesus. Today's procession ended at the ancient Holy Sepulcher church. Later today there'll be a Mass in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
This evening in Rome, thousands of Catholics will take part in the "Via Crucis" or "Way of the Cross" procession to the Colosseum led by newly elected Pope Francis.
Tonight's celebration follows an unusual Holy Thursday where the pope gave mass at a prison for minors in Rome. There, he washed the feet of twelve young prisoners, two of whom were Muslim and for the first time, two women.
This weekend's celebration will culminate with mass on Easter Sunday in St. Peter's.
Obama, flanked by grim-faced mothers who have lost their children to guns, said Washington must do something after the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., three months ago. He called out to the families of four children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School sitting in his audience.
"Shame on us if we've forgotten," Obama said. "I haven't forgotten those kids."
Obama's event comes as gun control legislation faces an uncertain future, even though more than 80 percent of people say in polling they support expanded background checks. Backed by a $12 million TV advertising campaign financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gun control groups scheduled rallies around the country Thursday aimed at pressuring senators to back the effort.
Obama said the upcoming vote is the best chance in more than a decade to reduce gun violence. He encouraged Americans, especially gun owners, to press lawmakers home from a congressional spring break to "turn that heartbreak into something real."
"Don't get squishy because time has passed and it's not on the news every single day," Obama said.
Moderate Senate Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are shunning Bloomberg as a meddling outsider while stressing their allegiance to their own voters' views and to gun rights. While saying they are keeping an open mind and that they support keeping guns from criminals and people with mental disorders, some moderates are avoiding specific commitments they might regret later.
"I do not need someone from New York City to tell me how to handle crime in our state. I know that we can go after and prosecute criminals without the need to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Dakotans," Heitkamp said this week, citing the constitutional right to bear arms.
Heitkamp does not face re-election next year, but Pryor and five other Senate Democrats from Republican-leaning or closely divided states do. All six, from Southern and Western states, will face voters whose deep attachment to guns is unshakeable — not to mention opposition from the still-potent National Rifle Association, should they vote for restrictions the NRA opposes.
"We have a politically savvy and a loyal voting bloc, and the politicians know that," said Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the NRA, which claims nearly 5 million paying members.
The heart of the Senate gun bill will be expanded requirements for federal background checks for gun buyers, the remaining primary proposal pushed by Obama and many Democrats since 20 first-graders and six women were shot to death in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada has said there aren't enough votes to approve a ban on assault weapons, while prospects are uncertain for a prohibition on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Today, the background checks apply only to sales by the nation's roughly 55,000 federally licensed gun dealers. Not covered are private transactions like those at gun shows and online. The Senate measure is still evolving as Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., use Congress' two-week recess to negotiate for additional support in both parties.
Expanding background checks to include gun show sales got 84 percent support in an Associated Press-GfK poll earlier this year. Near-universal background checks have received similar or stronger support in other national polls.
Polls in some Southern states have been comparable. March surveys by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found more than 9 in 10 people in Florida and Virginia backing expanded background checks, the same margin found by an Elon University Poll in North Carolina in February.
Analysts say people support more background checks because they consider it an extension of the existing system. That doesn't translate to unvarnished support from lawmakers, in part because the small but vocal minorities who oppose broader background checks and other gun restrictions tend to be driven voters that politicians are reluctant to alienate.
"It's probably true that intense, single-issue gun voters have been more likely to turn out than folks who want common-sense gun laws," said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group that Bloomberg helps lead. Glaze, however, said he believes that voters favoring gun restrictions have become more motivated since Newtown and other recent mass shootings.
Several moderate Democrats are holding back as they assess the political landscape. They're also waiting to see exactly what the Senate will consider.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said Wednesday his state's voters tell him, "Don't take away our rights, our individual rights, our guns." Begich said he opposes a strict proposal requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales but will wait to see whether there is a bipartisan compromise he can support.
The problems faced by gun control supporters go beyond the challenge of winning over moderate Democrats. GOP opponents are sure to force Democrats to get 60 of the Senate's 100 votes to win, and there are only 53 Democrats plus two independents who generally support them.
Also targeted by Bloomberg's ads are 10 Republicans, including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, home of ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in a mass shooting; the retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia; and moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
In another indicator of hurdles facing gun control forces, the Senate voted 50-49 last week to require 60 votes for any legislation narrowing gun rights. The proposal lost because 60 votes in favor were required, but six Democrats voted for the proposal, offered by conservative Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
"It confirms there's no such thing as an easy gun vote," said Jim Kessler, a senior vice president of the centrist Democratic group Third Way.
The gun bill also increases penalties for illegal gun sales and slightly boosts aid for school safety.
More abrupt changes like an assault weapons ban generally get slight majorities in polls. Democratic leaders decided to omit it from the Senate bill because such a provision lacks enough votes.
___ AP writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.