Autonomous ISR & science missions employing collaborating UAVs offer great potential for improving the productivity of NASA airborne science research. The related autonomous missions will include high altitude atmospheric composition measurements of specific chemical or physical conditions that contribute to climate change. A mission in which the instrument measurements guide the flight path requires real-time analysis and a high degree of autonomy. Other relevant missions include detection and monitoring of hurricanes, oil spills and wildfires, and communication of the location and imagery to the control centers and crews on the ground. In fire monitoring, the sensor system must be automated to search for fires in designated areas, revise plans when fire detection task takes longer than expected, track satellite passes to ensure transmission of data, and monitor fuel state to ensure safe return of the vehicle. Fully autonomous UAVs, capable of performing such missions, are envisioned as a part of future NASA's Sensorweb - a networked set of instruments in which information from one sensor is automatically used to redirect or reconfigure other components of the web.
UAVs have a variety of applications for US Homeland Security. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol tested UAVs in its Arizona Border Patrol Initiative, aimed at minimizing illegal and dangerous border crossings. According to the CBP, the advantages of UAVs include advanced image recognition systems in both day and night-time monitoring, longer dwell time (in comparison to manned Black Hawk helicopters) resulting in more sustained coverage, decreased need for human resources and the ability to work in dangerous conditions, resulting in increased safety for ground agents. In addition to border patrol, UAVs have application in search and rescue; monitoring of hurricanes, floods and mud slides; maritime, harbor and littoral patrol and monitoring critical infrastructure such as dams and aqueducts; energy and water pipelines; and assets in the national power grid, which may span many miles and require long, tedious but essential monitoring. There is also a great potential for autonomous UAVs in a variety of agricultural and military applications.