Drone Tech Gets Creepy


If you don’t have a holy &^% moment when watching this this video, you don’t have a pulse. At every turn, it seems, the creepiness factor of advances in drone technology seems to be accelerating. This was one of two developments that surfaced last week that should give anyone second thoughts. The other is the sudden intense interest in drone technology by law enforcement agencies. Taken together, these developments represent both positive potential and a scary turn for the worse.Consider the autonomous drone formation flight. Those are battery powered quad rotors, so they don’t have much range or endurance. The video depicts what is obviously a lab trick, but in the modern world, developments move from the lab to the field much faster than they used to. So it’s not hard to imagine those quad rotors or similar technology improved for greater range and made smaller and cheaper. Or, conversely, scaled up to, say, two or three feet and fitted with either bigger batteries or a thermodynamic engine for greater range. Now imagine a weaponized swarm of a couple of hundred of these things coming at you like so many malevolent bees. It’s creepy. If I were in the Pentagon drone corps and saw this video, I’d be up at night feverishly thinking about countermeasures.The potential on the civil side is both obvious and just as worrisome if abused. That law enforcement agencies want drones is understandable. They can do what manned helicopters can for a fraction of the cost. In principle, a drone patrolling on routine surveillance is no different than a manned aircraft doing the same. But the expense of manned aircraft puts a natural brake on how much surveillance can be done. It forces the sheriff to limit targets to serious crime or safety issue.Presumably, with the ability to buy more and ever cheaper, not to mention more capable, drones, law enforcement could easily drift toward routine surveillance of things they don’t need to be watching. It’s a clear threat to 4th Amendment protections. The nano drones are even more threatening. Imagine one of these little stinkers hovering outside your apartment window without you being aware of it. You can bet this will get a court test sooner rather than later. The Supreme Court has already ruled on the use of GPS trackers for investigatory surveillance, reasoning-correctly, I think-that a search warrant is required for the placement of a tracking device on a vehicle.We’re fortunate in this country to have such protections. But for other parts of the world, drone technology strikes me as the perfect technological tool to keep a restraining thumb on a restless populace. The Stasi would have loved it.