Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Drones, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This essay is written to alert people about what will change in the future due to readily available “Drone Technology”.   What do I mean by Drone Technology?

Drone Technology consists of:
  • Traditional radio control (RC) model components: transmitters, receivers, servos, and batteries.  This has existing for over 45 years.
  • Traditional model making components: RC airplane, car, boat, helicopter kits, spare parts, glow engines, raw materials (wood, aluminum..).  These have existed for over 75 years.
  • New power technology: rare earth motors, high capacity Lipo batteries, large displacement gas engines, electronic speed controls.  These became available in the last 15 years.
  • New electronics and software: programmable control boards, telemetry transceivers.  This is a modern invention of the last 5 years.
  • New sensors: compact digital video cameras, gyroscopes, compasses, GPS receivers, altimeters, temperature sensors, magnetometers, barometric pressure transducers.  Modern inventions driven by smart phones, video games, and car electronics. 
What this means is that we have progressed from expensive difficult to fly radio controlled aircraft controlled line of sight from the ground (15 years ago) to affordable self guided multi-rotor programmable drones that can fly up to 20 miles carrying a payload of up to 10 pounds and perform a number of tasks like taking videos, dropping something, landing, etc. If a fixed wing drone is used, it could likely fly up to 50 miles autonomously on a precision pre-programmed path performing tasks. These are self-sufficient drones requiring no control from the ground.

The Good

  • New productive capabilities for businesses: inspecting roofs, cell towers, electrical equipment, photographing, trimming trees, finding fish in a lake, you name it
  • New capabilities for public service: search and rescue, surveying crime scenes, mapping, etc.
  • Forget package delivery by Amazon, this will not happen for many years as flying an unreliable drone over a populated area in weather is a recipe for disaster
  • It is a fun hobby

The Bad

  • Walls will no longer allow you to have privacy, like in your backyard
  • Some fool will likely fly one of these in a populated area, crash it and kill somebody
  • Some fool will fly near an airport and nearly cause a crash
  • Noise and disturbance

The Ugly

  • This technology opens up the following criminal possibilities:
    • Cross border drug and gun smuggling
    • Delivery of contraband to prisoners when they are outside exercising
    • Anonymous delivery of drugs within an area
    • Entering houses through open upstairs windows and stealing valuables
    • And so on
  • Terrorist possibilities
    • Dropping bombs or chemicals on innocent people (easy)
    • Ramming commercial airliners (hard)

How can we deal with this phenomenon? Unfortunately, the genie will not go back in the bottle, this technology is available worldwide. Laws are needed and will regulate the law-abiding person, but will not stop criminals or terrorists. However, the laws will allow us to put criminals in jail. Jamming technology will have little effect as the drones do not require a communication link as they are autonomous. Guns will have little effect, although a shotgun will be the best weapon to bring down a drone.

I believe we have to re-think security and safety. Assume these drones exist and design protection that does not rely only on terrestrial measures, like walls, barbwire, gates, and the like. Re-design to account for the hazards of these devices


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