Can a tiny flying sensor tell farmers if they have a sick animal? Can a drone fly ahead of speeding trains to prevent accidents? It would sound like science fiction if it weren’t already happening in Raleigh.

For most, the word “drone” has connotations of distant battlefields and secret technologies. But organizations like PrecisionHawk and NC State’s NextGen Air are working against that stereotype as they develop practical uses for drones—or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as they prefer to call them—building machines that can one day do everything from assisting emergency crews during crises to delivering groceries to a consumer’s doorstep, and they’re creating plenty of funding and job potential along the way.

PrecisionHawk, headquartered in Raleigh but with offices in Indiana and Canada, has made headlines for over $11 million raised in venture capital from players such as Intel and Bob Young, founder of Red Hat. It also has exclusive licenses and research & development exemptions from the FAA. The company’s director of business development, Tyler Collins, spoke at the John Locke Foundation in downtown Raleigh early in June about the future of drones in North Carolina and globally. “We’re proving drones aren’t just for military applications,” he said.

NextGen Air Transportation, an NC State program launched in 2012 by the NCDOT Division of Aviation, was selected in May to become part of the FAA’s Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which will be at the forefront of the federal government’s efforts to create symmetry between unmanned aircraft and manned flight control stations.

Kyle Snyder, NGAT’s director, answered over email about the wide-ranging effects drones could have on day-to-day life in coming years.

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Note: ExitEvent is a news partner of WRAL TechWire.