Whether you approve of drones or not is mostly irrelevant, drones are here to stay. Perhaps drone make you nervous. However, drones are invaluable technology which used in appropriate ways can be both fun, educational, and contribute towards understanding our Earth.
I have four drones. Specifically, I have four hobby helicopters. I have plan on buying more, and more sophisticated drones. The university I work has built a drone. Our builder is like Q, the old chap in the James Bond films who introduces 007 to his new array of nifty gadgets. Jim is not as old as Q but his underground workshop brings to mind the workshop Tony Stark worked from in his early days. I’m pretty sure Jim is hiding an ARC reactor in the basement of my building.
Technically, a drone does not have to aerial. A drone is simply a device which follows the commands of a master, right? Many of us worked jobs (or work currently at jobs) where we felt as if we were drones, given tasks by our overlords to stock shelves, polish floors, bundle cardboard. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are simply an airborne version of a drone. A drone could be an underwater, terrestrial, or aerial device. What makes aerial drones so fascinating is the ease of movement within the airborne environment. Burrowing drones are probably a long way off, technologically-speaking. However, one should not be surprised the U.S. Navy is working on aquatic drones (Economist). Imagine a school of drones, or maybe the correct term for a group of aquatic drones is “pod,” sitting off the coast of Country X, sniffing WIFI traffic, radio traffic, sniffing for chemical signatures, or feeling about for radioactive anomalies.
Airborne drones, a/k/a Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), make people understandably nervous. No one wants to be caught outside, naked sunbathing, or fighting their dogs in a backwoods arena, or tending their pot crop in a national forest.
We do not want Big Brother breathing down our neck when we jaywalk, returning home to find a violation emailed to us from the automated airborne Jaywalking Identification, trackinG, and ticketinG system (JIGGY).
We do not want to get an SMS notification of the grass in our front yard, which we haven’t mowed in 8 days, having violated the homeowners association Code of Lawn and Landscaping Standards according the SubdivisioN Optimal cOde Protocols (SNOOP).
We simply want to hold onto some semblance of privacy.
We want privacy, if Facebook status updates are any indication. When we post all of our personal details and drama on Facebook, we vociferously expound upon how we do not have any privacy at all and how we wish people would just leave us along, and how we couldn’t believe Bethany would wear those skanky shorts to the parking lot so she could drink with her underage high school friends, and Jillians belly-shirt makes her look pregnant.
Drones will soon become part of everyday life. Accepting drones as commonplace will help society develop acceptable use practices. A vast array of obstacles are arrayed in front of societal acceptance, I completely understand. As our small contingent of DIY Droners discussed our drone, we frequently cast sidelong glances at “Drones in the News.” Several states, counties, and cities are evaluating drone use, or non-use, perhaps banning drones in all forms.
The banning of drones has an analog in Science Fiction, something like the “KILL everything Different, aliEn, or Disagreeable” philosophy (KILLDED). Nothing positive is gained from immediate, visceral, gut-level animosity and ignorant reactions (that goes for you, too, Alien civilizations on the moon, sniffing hominid EM transmissions emanating from the Blue Planet. Play nice.)
Again, I can completely understand the concern. When the U.S. government, the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) won’t come clean about the use of drones to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil even I feel great consternation. Regardless of potential benign uses by our federal government (“The Wonderful World of Drones,” NextGov), the precedent for drone use in killing people has already been established (Reuters). In fact, U.S. policymakers are currently working to “regularize” policies for both domestic and foreign drone use. In what I consider to be the penultimate hubris of policymakers and advisers, policy drafts are being created by the United States for all countries who want drones or who currently have drones to follow (“Obama Seeks Global Rules;” Reuters). How nice.
By the way, “regularize” is not my term. I often write sarcasm (and am somewhat adroit in speaking Sarcasm) but in the case of “regularize” I cannot take credit for coinage. The CIA or Department of Defense are the originators of the term, I suspect. To me, “regularize” is a synonym for “commonplace” and could be defined as “to make normal or everyday; common, like a bowel movement or regular mail delivery.”
To illustrate “regularize,” consider the conversation below.
“I haven’t seen your neighbor in a while. Did he move?”
“The government auvved (pronounced “awe-v-d”) him the other day while he was mowing his yard. He mentioned to me just before it happened he was getting “Cease-and-Desist” letter from the FBI. I’m spending too much time educating myself about Middle East politics, submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and reading subversive material on Khan Academy and iTunes University.”
“Wait. Khan Academy and iTunes University has subversive material?! I’ve been on those sites! I didn’t see anything subversive! It’s just educational material! …Oh, wait…; I see…”
“Knowledge is power, my friend. Knowledge is power…”
“So, what kind of beer you got?”
In the 1980s, we had “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks” (SALT I and SALT II), negotiations with the Soviet Union to manage mutual nuclear weapon arsenals. For UAVs/Drones, I suspect in the next decade we will have something akin to “INternational Strategic Unmanned vehicLe Talks” (INSULT). Invited countries will include China, Russia, the United States, South Korea, UK, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, …, oh, probably all 200+ countries will have to attend. Anyone with $1,000 to spend will be able to fly a drone capable of hurting someone or something.
Should You Need A License To Operate a SmartPhone?
What a dumb question, right? Probably. Entertain me for a moment. The FAA is currently formalizing license requirements for the operation of UAVs/drones for use in the United States (FAA; March 27, 2013). Licensing is available for UASs weighing less than 4 pounds, and for drones weighing between 4 pounds and 25 pounds. UASs, for the record, can be as small as a hummingbird, or have wing-spans as wide as a commercial aircraft.
DHS and FAA do not want the common person to enjoy a hobby, apparently. These government agencies, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), would pretty much like to strip legitimate UAS and hobby UAS from not only the United States but global use of what only a few years ago was a groovy hobby. Check out the video below and then tell me these guys didn’t create something cool.
On the surface, I can see why. UASs put consider power in the hands of a 12-year old girl. That’s right, a 12-year old. Actually, maybe 11; I can’t remember. Last summer, before my former step-children moved away, my step-daughter and step-son stood out in the street in front of my house and flew my helicopters around the neighborhood. My step-daughter, in particular, likes taking objects apart. One of the best times I can remember her having is when my old VHS player broke. She was about 8 or 9, and I gave her the VHS player, some tools and my cordless drill and said, “have at it.” She completely disassembled the VHS over the course of a rainy afternoon. By the way, a child who can sit on the floor for 7 hours or so and do something interesting and ask questions about components being removed does not have ADD.
At the time, I did not realize I was training my step-children to be terrorists, or anti-government anarchists, or anti-establishment drone-flying radical sympathizers. I was really hoping to instill in them some interest in physics, aerodynamics, patience (flying a helicopter is a challenge), and spark their imagination a little. Both children are imaginative.
However, over the course of the last two years or so, the Federal Government, DHS, FBI, CIA, DoD, plus many states, some counties, and some cities are seeking to restrict and/or criminalize even the use of small UASs.
Honestly, I cannot see needing a license to pilot an AR Parrot Drone. Nor can I see the need to have a license to use a smartphone. Accessories are easy to obtain which could attach a smartphone to a UAS for capturing video. In fact, people often use their smartphones for surreptitiously capturing video, sometimes incriminating video. Just ask the Rutgers coach if he might have behaved himself had he known he was being caught on video. “Would you have behaved differently if you knew this was being videoed?”
In public places, people have no right to privacy. Last winter, I was marveling at a scene in my local grocery. The store was undergoing renovations. The freezer aisles had been removed and replaced with a long, shallow trench which stretched the length of the aisle. The trench was deep enough to have exposed soil below the store’s foundation. I was like, wow, cool, a trench down to the construction gravel. Sitting smack-dab in the middle of the aisle, over the trench, was a small backhoe. Backhoes and trenches are not normal components of my store’s frozen pizza section so I grabbed my iPhone and snapped some photos.
The fellows (not shown) working in the trench were not amused by my photography efforts and wanted to know “what the hell is so interesting about a backhoe?” Backhoes in grocery stores must be “regularized” in their part of the United States, but not in mine. I replied with, “How often to you guys walk up on a backhoe in the middle of a grocery store?” I suspect their concern over my pictures had nothing to do with the backhoe but these fellows have had their pictures taken multiple times over the course of their life by local law enforcement.
Granted, Kroger isn’t exactly a public place. Kroger’s management might have asked me to deleted photos since the store is technically private property. However, these places are commonly thought of as “public places” because we refer to “being out in public” when running errands, or having to be careful when “out in public” because we don’t people to know we are fooling around. Thus, Kroger, Wal-mart, Walgreens, and other places are public in the sense we may modify our behavior due to the presence of an audience.
Our front yard, the street in front of our house, while perhaps not exactly public places do offer opportunities for people to catch glimpses of our lives since we set those actions in an environment for many to see.
It’s what we do in our backyards, behind privacy fences, which we want to avoid having posted to YouTube, Vimeo, or Vine. Or, inside our homes which may need some discussion about legal protection.
We already have laws to protect privacy, though. Do we need more laws to protect privacy when laws already exist to guard privacy? It’s not legal for a person to spy into your home, to use any means of distance viewing, using binoculars, telescopes, or remote cameras. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Many states and cities have laws which protect individual privacy making spying or “peeping” illegal regardless of the method.
Since society has legal measures to protect individual privacy, I do not see a valid argument for the licensing or legislation concerning drones. Most of us carry with us smartphones. Our smartphones provide us with ways of covertly capturing pictures, video, and recording conversations. I personally have used my iPhone for all the above. iPhones are awesome tools for recording lectures, recording presentations, and if one sits near the front, for capturing audio from lectures, or conference calls. During military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, cellphones were used as triggers for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Since I have a device capable of being used in nefarious ways, do I need a license to operate the device? Do I need to register my smartphone with some quasi-government agency, like the Department of Unmanned Mobile Bandwidth (DUMB) devices? Some type of formal or regularized National smartphonE Registry DatabaSe (NERDS)?
I hope not. Actually, I’m sure one already exists. Any regular viewer of NCIS or Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, or Law and Order: Criminal Intent have heard of LUDs. LUD is an acronym for “local usage details.” Any law enforcement agency can “pull LUDs” to determine when and where a call was placed. Any local law enforcement agency can “ping” a cellphone to determine approximate location of the cellphone and presumably the cellphone user. No warrant is needed for obtaining these records. What does not exist is a true “de jure” smartphone ownership registry akin to a gun registry.
I’ve digressed considerably but I feel these points need made. We are surrounded daily by technology capable of a multitude of applications, both benign and inherently evil. Technology is both omnipresent and “regularized” in our lives. When the toys of a child require a license, something is wrong. Next, people will need a license for driving scale model electric cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, and anything else remotely operated. I’m not being ridiculous. Cameras and GPS technology is already being placed upon every remote-controlled device, and if the device does not arrive right-out-of-the-box with HD video technology, accessories are available to convert the device into a roving spy-buggy buzzing the streets of your local neighborhood.
Returning to my theme from which I have deviated greatly, UASs do have a place in society, for fun and learning, and for more cerebral pursuits, as well.
In future essays, I will discuss the potential educational and scientific uses of UASs, and why the technology is necessary and vital for society.