Drones: Testing, Using, or Shooting Them Down?

-August 26, 2013

Very often, I find the fodder for a blog in the day’s headlines. This one, in the New York Post, caught my attention:  Symbolic stand against government surveillance: Drone hunting permits may soon be issued in Colorado. My first reaction was to laugh and then my imagination went to overdrive. The headlines are screaming daily of gun confiscation in California, drone use in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, and heretofore unheard of uses for sensor technology in domestic applications at the center of the controversies.

KWTV-9 in Oklahoma, for example, reported a couple of months ago that the Department of Homeland Security is testing a number of drones at a facility in Oklahoma. The sensors involved in the testing are capable of detecting whether or not a person is armed. Normally, given constant headlines regarding gun misuse, I can hear the majority of responses to this being positive, right? While the claim is that the drones are to be used to catch the bad guy, and maybe it’s true, will they also be used to catch the good guy?

Here’s the KWTV-9 report:

The drones involved are said to have a takeoff weight of 25 lbs. or less and have cameras that can record the scenery in HQ quality. Supposedly a DHS official concluded after conducting a Privacy Impact Assessment that the drones pose no safety issues. Well, that’s reassuring.

On April 11, 2013 the Department of Homeland Security announced that:

“...SUAS sensor platforms are being tested for use by “first responder and homeland security operational communities” that “can distinguish between unarmed and armed (exposed) personnel,” as well as conducting detection, surveillance, tracking and laser designation of targets of interest at stand-off ranges, according to the RAPS Test Plan obtained by Homeland Security Today.“

By June, 2013, the FBI indicated that drones are already monitoring US citizens—but that domestic surveillance rarely happens and guidelines are being explored. When Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa asked FBI director Robert Mueller, “Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on US soil?” Mueller’s response was, “Yes.” The FBI released a statement after Mueller's response that said unmanned aircraft were used to watch stationary subjects and to avoid serious risks to law-enforcement agents. Seems to m that could involve a multitude of scenarios.

So, back to drone hunting permits--Deer Trail, Colorado, a town of 500 east of Denver, is thinking of creating an attraction for gun enthusiasts and those concerned about government surveillance. On October 8 (It’s on my calendar and I’ll report the results of the vote), citizens of the town will vote on issuing permits to hunt drones. The idea is to charge $25 to shoot them down and there will be a $100 reward for the drone debris as long as the former (drone only) aircraft was owned and operated by the US federal government.

So far, Washington is not amused and a warning was issued by the FAA: "Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane." While I think that this is bizarre, and I certainly don’t recommend this type of target practice, the bigger idea is serious.

Maybe before you dismiss the antics of the Colorado town, see: Air Force Bugbot Nano Drone Technology.

So, what do you think? As the architects of technology, do you have concerns? We have absolutely amazing technology. Where and how should the lines to be set for its use?



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