We leave digital footprints nearly everywhere we go. Swipe your credit card or use a frequent customer card and your information goes straight into a database. Step out into public and security cameras capture your activities. We know they're watching on the ground, but soon, it could be easier than ever to monitor you from above.
Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs), sometimes called "drones," are here. You can buy lower-tech version on Amazon or even at local stores. Researchers, police and politicians are all trying to figure out what to do with this technology because it's advancing quicker than lawmakers can regulate it.
Within the next decade, experts expect 30,000 drones will fly above the United States. The tiny planes could change everything from how police investigate crimes to how farmers manage their crops.
"I'd like to see North Carolina back at the forefront of airspace and aviation. We were first in flight, let's be first in modern aviation, too," NGAT Center Director Kyle Snyder said.
Snyder leads a program at North Carolina State University that's studying the technology and searching for ways to ensure North Carolina is ready to build, program and use these devices.
"It has a Styrofoam wing... a Kevlar body. The whole thing, including the battery, weighs about three pounds," Snyder said. "You hand launch it, like a football, without the spin...The intent of flying these is to save lives. To save money."
However, the ACLU has concerns about the devices. "If you're going to have a bunch of drones buzzing around in the sky above us, it would be really good if it was regulated properly," Sarah Preston, ACLU NC Policy Director, said. "What we're seeing now is there's a real system, a real architecture, of surveillance that's being built...So much information is getting collected that, at a certain point, the government is going to be able to know everywhere that you go, everything that you do."
Lawmakers have concerns, too. Tucked away in the state budget is language that essentially bans state and local government officials from using UAVs.
"Some people might feel like it's unnerving or inappropriate. But, it's a public space. There is no right to privacy in public space. Where there is no right to privacy, we have the ability to monitor," Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller said.
And, local law enforcement officials admit they have had serious conversations about this subject.
"We have looked at and had some conversations about their benefit, both at my level and with the city manager's office," Miller added.
Guilford County Sheriff's Department Colonel Randy Powers said, "Drones are definitely something that can be used in law enforcement. It would be something nice to have."
Law enforcement envisions using the devices to find missing people or to hover above places that might be dangerous or difficult to reach.
"I don't think we ought to fear them. I think we ought to accept that the technology in our world is changing," Miller said.
Again, state and federal laws are keeping those plans grounded...for now.
But, when it comes to personal use, you can order your own, less powerful version, for $300 or less.
"I have a six-year-old grandson that can fly one and he has cameras on his and there's nothing illegal about that whatsoever," Colonel Powers said.
People who work with these devices hate the term "drone" because it implies they are stupid or even armed.
In reality, they're smarter than you might realize. You plot their entire course on a tablet and then adjust their flight plan while they're in the air. If something goes wrong, you can send a signal for the device to immediately land.
Right now, there is a state committee studying how to regulate UAVs before they become even more mainstream.
There are a lot of issues to sort through, ranging from when law enforcement should be able to use them to preventing them from interfering with planes in the air.