Drones… on a Wire

March 22, 2013, by Ken Jorgustin

Drones on a Wire recharging their battery

The U.S. Department of Defense currently maintains a roster of some 11,000 unmanned aircraft, ranging from lightweight surveillance drones to heavyweight tactical aircraft.

420 of them weigh over 1,320 pounds
520 are between 55 and 1,320 pounds
and… 10,000 of them weigh less than 55 pounds.

In February 2012, President Barack Obama directed the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to tear American airspace wide open to drones by September 30, 2015.

The U.S. military industrial complex has Drone fever. Small drones are popping up everywhere, and they’re not just overseas… they are right here at home…

The apparent center of Drone fever is Dayton Ohio, fittingly so as it is the home of the Wright brothers and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, along with the Air Force Institute of Technology (a center of military drone research). In Dayton and elsewhere, more than 1,000 companies are now in the drone business.

Advanced research, supported by the Pentagon and DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been producing stunning results whereby small drones navigate visually on their own without GPS, can ‘hide in plain sight’ while surveilling or even ‘shooting’.

They are building drones that mimic the size and behavior of bugs and birds. Robotic moths with wings of carbon fiber and Mylar. Winged multi-legged bugs that can swarm, crawl, and perch.

Reported by John Horgan in National Geographic Magazine while visiting the Dayton Air Force Institute of Technology, although being denied a live demonstration of the classified drones, he was allowed to watch a video…

“The drones swarm through alleys, crawl across windowsills, and perch on power lines. One of them sneaks up on a scowling man holding a gun and shoots him in the head.”

In another video, a mini-drone two feet long tested defenses at a military range. From its on-board camera, a puff of smoke is seen in the distance, from which emerges a tiny dot that rapidly grows larger before whizzing harmlessly past: ‘That was a surface-to-air missile missing its mark’. In yet another video, an F-16 fighter plane races past the drone without spotting it.

Some of these drones can apparently recognize power lines and drain electricity from them with a ‘bat hook’, recharging its batteries, potentially keeping it ‘alive’ and on mission for a very long time.

The prospect of American skies swarming with drones raises the concerns of privacy advocates. On-board cameras and sensors can peer through obstacles and even detect people inside buildings.

With enough drones, an entire city could be monitored 24/7, equivalent to a convenience store crammed with security cameras. As drones become cheaper, more reliable and readily available, law enforcement agencies are becoming tempted to carry out persistent surveillance of U.S. citizens. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects Americans from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures, but it’s not clear how courts will apply that to drones.

…it begins with drones supporting ‘mostly unobjectionable’ police raids and chases. Soon, however, networks of linked drones and computers gain the ability to automatically track multiple vehicles and bodies as they move around a city. The nightmare climaxes with authorities combining drone video and cell phone tracking to build up databases of people’s routine comings and goings – databases they can then mine for suspicious behavior… and there’s the possibility that police drones might be armed.

source: National Geographic

New technology, some of which can have its benefits, can also result in incremental damage to our privacy, liberty and freedom… be it by accident, or on purpose. Drone technology, without a doubt, is one of those.