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The tiniest are small enough to fly through a house window.
June 14, 2010 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Feds under pressure to open US skies to drones. Last week, the FAA released a fact sheet, which states in part that "one of the most promising potential uses for small UASs is in law enforcement." They've already allowed the Border Patrol to use Predator drones as a "key force multiplier" along the Mexican border. Local law enforcement wants in on the game. Britons, you're next - or first?

The FAA is most concerned about collisions with manned aircraft, but much research has already been done by the military and private industry. Nevertheless, the FAA recently signed a contract with a Boeing subsidiary to conduct its own research.
posted by desjardins (126 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
And the pot goes up another five degrees, as the surveillance state goes visual.
posted by Malor at 8:29 AM on June 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


Unmanned aircraft have proved their usefulness and reliability in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.
posted by enn at 8:30 AM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I need a button that says At last, Dystopia!
posted by The Whelk at 8:32 AM on June 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Surely this...oh, wait.
posted by goethean at 8:34 AM on June 14, 2010


Finally, my prayers nightmares have been answered!
posted by paisley henosis at 8:35 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I need a button that says At last, Dystopia!

The budget for springs alone would rocket registration to $50 a pop.
posted by griphus at 8:36 AM on June 14, 2010


Obvious questions of legality and privacy aside, what happens if an unmanned drone causes property damage, injury or death?
posted by davejay at 8:38 AM on June 14, 2010


I feel like I should be more upset about this than I am. It just doesn't bother me that much. If I'm walking/driving down the street, I have a reasonable expectation that someone is watching me. Be that a police officer on foot, driving in his/her patrol car, flying above in a police chopper, or remotely piloting a UAV. Privacy is the least of my concerns when I'm in a public place.

The safety issues are another story. That worries me a whole lot more.
posted by JeffK at 8:39 AM on June 14, 2010


I envy the young 'uns who will have no idea that things used to be different. "You mean they had to give a judge a good reason before they listened in on your phone calls? Crazy!"
posted by Joe Beese at 8:39 AM on June 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Pilots don't object to police use of drones, but say they must follow the same rules (including avoidance procedures) and undergo similar certification procedures as airplanes. Police agencies insist that would be too expensive.

What goethean said .....
posted by blucevalo at 8:39 AM on June 14, 2010


that is, historically there hasn't been significant accountability when, say, a police officer causes property damage, injury or death, and that's with the officer who did it on-site -- what happens when that officer is hundreds of miles away, or worse, is actually a civilian as is the case in war zones right now?
posted by davejay at 8:40 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


...they must follow the same rules (including avoidance procedures) and undergo similar certification procedures as airplanes. Police agencies insist that would be too expensive.

Then they're too expensive for you to have. Done and done.
posted by davejay at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2010 [39 favorites]


I thought copseyes were oh my god so fucking creepy when Niven wrote about them however many years ago. If I see them flying around IRL, I'm just going to lose my shit.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:42 AM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


So this is how Skynet begins.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:43 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a great idea. Since Police Officers have shown such excellent restraint with tasers, we should give them even more non-lethal power that they're sure to never, ever abuse!

GOD BLESS the U.S.A. (but only the Christian God)
posted by Malice at 8:43 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not just the Mexican border.

And we want some, too.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:44 AM on June 14, 2010


Durn Bronzefist, your second link scared the crap out of me until I saw it was the military and not the police. AFAIK, our local law enforcement agencies aren't actually suggesting missiles on the drones. Yet.
posted by desjardins at 8:49 AM on June 14, 2010


What's the difference between cops flying over back country looking for weed in a prop plane or helicopter vs. and unmanned drone? The fat ass donut sucker is still looking at you, whether he's in the cockpit or back at the office in front of a monitor. You know, radar was invented as a war time technology...did we get our panties in a twist when that was adopted domestically?
posted by spicynuts at 8:50 AM on June 14, 2010


Oh, fuck no. Absolutely goddamn not.

The drones whose video feeds enterprising techies have been able to tap at will? Given the level of restraint and self-control shown by our government in the use of other military technologies on civilians?

Looks like it is time to work on those home EMP devices, with shaped magnetic fields. I think UP-and-DOWN sounds like a fine axis today.
posted by adipocere at 8:53 AM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't have a big problem with drones as a law enforcement tool on a philisophical level. We already have law enforcement helicopters for eye in the sky related needs. My problem is on the practical level these are expensive tools thrust into a role where most of their bennefits are moot for a bit of silly political theater. This is a bunch of self important dicks clammoring for toys that serve mainly as a referendum on their own importance. Quite frankly I don't want my tax dollars going to a nativistic hysterical dick measuring contest. I am not libertarian, I'm glad when the state spends money on things that efficiently accomplish important goals. I hate when the state spends money on grand and empty gestures to ease people's irrational fears.
posted by I Foody at 8:54 AM on June 14, 2010 [19 favorites]


Currently, UAV operators have to ask for a block of restricted airspace from the FAA to fly the drones. This is a huge pain in the ass all around, since a) the operators are stuck with odd times of day when they're allowed to fly and b) you have to close off a huge area to allow a single UAV fly around.

The problem with sharing airspace is one of "see and avoid". Human pilots can do this; drones have a hard time with it. You can install traffic avoidance sensors, but they rely on electronic equipment that not everything flying has installed. A drone would be blind to, say, a historic warbird with no transponder. Or a balloon. Or skydivers. Terrain, and particularly obstacle, avoidance also is challenging. A human can look ahead and see that there's a large radio tower in front of them and adjust accordingly; the drone would know of an obstacle based on the nav database loaded into the computers, but would likely not know about temporary obstacles like construction cranes that don't show up on maps and nav data.

I don't see how this is much worse than, say, letting the police have helicopters. Even if the aircraft are completely autonomous, you still need operators to monitor the surveillance equipment and I'm dubious that many enforcement agencies have the budgets to afford these.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:54 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


your second link scared the crap out of me until I saw it was the military and not the police.

Sorry, desjardins. Not my intention to mislead.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:57 AM on June 14, 2010


Don't worry, Estes has your back.
posted by swift at 8:57 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


> What's the difference between cops flying over back country looking for weed in a prop plane or helicopter vs. and unmanned drone?

In that case, not so much. But, opening the door for drone patrols will lead to constant overflights in populated areas. Are you comfortable with the idea that you'll be seen in your backyard all the time? Satellites are one thing, but low level overflights are something else. Just think when every precinct has a stable of these things in routine use. What's to stop them from arming them with various lethal and non-lethal weapons. Hell, when they are more advanced and can hover and loiter longer, why not make them interactive? A citizen is outside on his property and a hover bot swoops down and does a quick interrogation to make sure no illegal activity is transpiring.

Paranoid slippery slopes aside, if you allow this kind of door to open uncontested then things quickly evolve/involve into something less than desirable for people who value at least the illusion of privacy.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:58 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


When you get right down to it, people don't want the police to be too good at fighting crime, since everyone commits crimes.

A good unmanned drone on autopilot can do much better surveillance and be operated much more cheaply than a chopper.

I don't think we are there yet, with the technology and the cheapness, but it's not too long at all.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:00 AM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


In that case, not so much. But, opening the door for drone patrols will lead to constant overflights in populated areas. Are you comfortable with the idea that you'll be seen in your backyard all the time?

Giving cops helicopters led to constant overflights in populated areas like L.A. and NYC. I don't feel like I'm under constant surveillance. What's the difference if the helicopter is manned or unmanned? Explain to me how life in L.A. or NYC would change because an unmanned drone is flying over as opposed to a manned po-po-copter or, even worse, the traffic/news copters and the freakin Goodyear blimp.
posted by spicynuts at 9:01 AM on June 14, 2010


> Giving cops helicopters led to constant overflights in populated areas like L.A. and NYC.

Helicopters can't loiter like smaller drones can, nor do they have the same surveillance mission.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:02 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you ask me, we should be lobbying to have these devices observing every police interaction, and to have all of those records available to the public, period.

The use of these drones in civilian life is inevitable.

P.S. If the civilian population really hates these, a few hundred anonymous kites in the air are probably enough to put a stop to it.
posted by poe at 9:02 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a good thing American citizens are allowed to buy anti-aircraft missiles and guns.
posted by chunking express at 9:03 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Human pilots can do this; drones have a hard time with it.

General aviation pilots aren't so hot at spotting either, especially if it's a smaller drone. And no fancy equipment in those old Cesnas either.
posted by smackfu at 9:03 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If we're going down the whole dystopia route, can't we at least get airships instead?
posted by schmod at 9:04 AM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


The drones whose video feeds enterprising techies have been able to tap at will?

Yeah those video feeds from news copters and police copters get tapped ALL the time. Sometimes I smoke a jay and watch the 'police copter video haxors' channel. It's awesome.
posted by spicynuts at 9:04 AM on June 14, 2010


Paging William Gibson to the thread . . .
posted by mecran01 at 9:05 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Helicopters can't loiter like smaller drones can, nor do they have the same surveillance mission.

Are you actually serious? Have you ever lived in LA or NYC? Because I have. Loitering is a constant. Unless there is some odd definition of loitering that I don't know about that does not mean 'hovering in one place about 400 feet up for 20 minutes'.
posted by spicynuts at 9:06 AM on June 14, 2010


Or maybe more to the point..HAVEN'T YOU EVER SEEN BLUE THUNDER????
posted by spicynuts at 9:06 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you don't want unmanned drones patrolling our skies you are a racist.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 9:07 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The upside is that all the people claiming that the sky is falling might get a chance to be literally correct.
posted by I Foody at 9:07 AM on June 14, 2010


Besides the privacy concerns, what about the annoying noise factor?
posted by desjardins at 9:10 AM on June 14, 2010


But these heretics will be sought and the dominion of silence will enlarge as each one goes down . . . they will all be sought out. Each will have his personal Rocket. Stored in its target-seeker will be the heretic's EEG, the spikes and susurrations of heartbeat, the ghost-blossomings of personal infrared, each Rocket will know its intended and hunt him, ride him a green-doped and silent hound, through our World, shining and pointed in the sky at his back, his guardian executioner rushing in, rushing closer. . . .
posted by shakespeherian at 9:10 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Are you actually serious? Have you ever lived in LA or NYC? Because I have. Loitering is a constant. Unless there is some odd definition of loitering that I don't know about that does not mean 'hovering in one place about 400 feet up for 20 minutes'.

Loitering implies hours.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:11 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you ask me, we should be lobbying to have these devices observing every police interaction, and to have all of those records available to the public, period.

I will absolutely guarantee you that laws will be passed making that particular use illegal. You're already forbidden (in some states) from recording the police, while on duty, unless you get their permission (which they will not grant).

Remember that biker that got pulled over & recorded the cop going apeshit?

Allowing people to monitor cops = communism, probably muslim communism. Maybe white-babykilling muslim communism.
posted by aramaic at 9:13 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


If the civilian population really hates these, a few hundred anonymous kites in the air are probably enough

When kites are illegal, only punk kids will have kites.
posted by prak at 9:14 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Woo hoo, more military tech for law enforcement to invade our homes with.
posted by grobstein at 9:19 AM on June 14, 2010


Get 'em before the prices soar!
posted by orme at 9:20 AM on June 14, 2010


The tiniest are small enough to fly through a house window.

Hopefully they act like birds and we can all just shut out windows and let 'em fly smack dab into them.
posted by edbles at 9:23 AM on June 14, 2010


The surveillance aspect of this is just the window-dressing. What the Police really want, what they are really envious of, is the ability to "neutralize threats" via Hellfire missile.

Can't happen here, you say? Could never happen here, you say? It goes against everything we, stand for, you say?

Well I could have said the same thing about indefinite detention and suspension of Habeas Corpus back in 2006 or so.

We have already reached a point in our civilization where civilian deaths (as a result of our high-altitude assassinations) are justified because "the bad guys were hiding among innocent civilians. We can't be responsible for that." Even our Great Liberal Hope Obama has increased the use of our flying assassin droids (even joking that he would use drones to murder the Jonas Brothers if they tried to seduce his daughters).

All it would really take is a concerted PR campaign on behalf of America's police forces: pointing out that a Predator Drone strike is nothing more than a "regular extension of already existing lethal force" (much in the same way that many in this thread are arguing that drone surveillance is nothing more than an extension of police helicopter duties), and that the ability to neutralize suspects from the air is vital to the safety of our families and children.

Of course, there will be rules. No missile strike unless lethal force is "obviously" warranted. Perhaps the first test-case will be some deranged cop killer flying down the interstate at 120mph in a stolen car. We'll wait until traffic is mostly cleared and then -- SWOOSH -- a fireball, shrapnel and then silence. What right-thinking American could be against such a scenario? What cop-hating ghetto dweller would not quake in fear at the thought of instant death from the skies?

You think I'm mad. That this last decade has finally gotten to me, driven me over the edge. Maybe so. I won't deny that.

But mark my words for future reference: this is where we are heading.

We, as a culture, have just become too comfy with the idea of Police State and extra-judicial killings in the same of Safety to ever truly oppose this en mass. The die, I think, has already been cast.
posted by Avenger at 9:26 AM on June 14, 2010 [40 favorites]


Spicynuts, I was referring to this. No maryjane required!
posted by adipocere at 9:27 AM on June 14, 2010


It's hot in my attic where the manual typewrites are. I worry that if I install air conditioning, there will be a "cool" signature on infrared from above.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:31 AM on June 14, 2010


What's the smallest rifle that would take one of these out?
posted by mr_roboto at 9:36 AM on June 14, 2010


Obvious questions of legality and privacy aside, what happens if an unmanned drone causes property damage, injury or death?

I dunno. What happens if a manned swat team causes injury or death?
posted by notreally at 9:36 AM on June 14, 2010


I think, to a large extent, David Brin had it right in The Transparent Society.

These things, like public cameras, are coming. Passing laws forbidding them will merely make them smaller, harder to see, and the police will officially deny having what everyone knows they have.

The real question, therefore, is: who gets to see what's going on? Will the images from the drones, cameras, etc be only for the select few to view, or will the plebes get a chance to look through the cameras themselves?

How do we know if the police are abusing the cameras? How do we know whether or not they're using the drones they will inevitably will have to spy on naked people, or to harass minorities, or other improper things?

I think Brin is right and there's only one workable answer to that question: we have to be able to see what the cops see. We, the people, should be able to fire up our browser and look through the camera of any active UAV, or streetcam, etc. Timeshifting for certain things (stakeouts, etc) should be permissible, but under no circumstances should the police be able to simply deny us access to the feed.

That's the first step in preventing abuse, let us see what the cops see and we can verify for ourselves if the cops are abusing the power they will inevitably and unavoidably acquire. If we can see through the cameras as well then we can verify for ourselves whether or not the police are abusing the cameras. That's going to be very difficult to get through, and the second step is going to be harder yet.

We also have to get public cameras into the copcam control rooms. Is Officer Smith cracking racist "jokes" while he uses the cameras to conduct racial profiling? Or talking about how the cameras follow the bouncing boobies so well? If we can watch the watchers we'll know. If the copcam control room is a special place where only the select few are ever permitted and we aren't permitted sousveilance there then we'll never know and we'll be forced to assume that the cops are misbehaving. And, really, how can they object? If cameras are good on the streets to prevent crime then surely they must work equally well when it comes to preventing crime in the police buildings, yes?

Cameras and UAV's are inevitable. What isn't inevitable is that the feeds are limited to the select and we have no idea if they're being abused or not. Privacy in public spaces has never existed, but the illusion is now being painfully destroyed. Open the feed, let a billion eyes watch through the cameras, and we'll have at least some assurance that the cameras and drones aren't being abused.
posted by sotonohito at 9:37 AM on June 14, 2010 [19 favorites]


> What's the smallest rifle that would take one of these out?

Use a shotgun, silly.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:38 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the people who brought you the high-speed automobile chase and the urban use of high-powered combat rifles, yet another "public safety" tool whose potential for collateral damage is far outweighed by its macho cool factor.
posted by Dimpy at 9:39 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would like to get rid of the blue "you are now entering the ghetto" boxes, which don't work because a) they have terrible video quality b) get destroyed c) shift crime by 2 meters. This is a little panopticon for me, but as someone who's lived and worked in high crime areas I can see how they would be comforting and useful as just a cheap remotely piloted helicopter to monitor at night. I'd rather spend the money on more beat cops, though.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:39 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well fuck. Time to start digging.

OTOH, I can see valid civilian applications for these devices. Like crashing them into my neighbor's house when he has one of his "let's listen to Phil Collins at a volume more suitable to Sunn0)))" parties.

Here's an idea: in the same way that trading carbon credits allows a market to be created and goodwill to be generated without actually doing a goddamn thing to solve the problem it is intended to address, let's start a tranferable privacy trading market. Say you are a churchgoing lawabiding hardworking American patriot, whose only criminal bent is for good ol' healthy patriotic crimes like securities fraud, embezzling, and tax evasion: you know, the crimes that made this country great. Under this system you could trade privacy credits with, say, me. I would buy your privacy credits so that I could then engage without fear of surveillance in the victimless crimes that I enjoy, like walking around my house pantsless smoking a joint.

Wanna rob a bank? Well, that's gonna be expensive, it being so public and all, so you'd hafta start a pool of privacy credits. And that would require fund managers to steal those credits, privacy traders to ease the thefts, and a whole new regulatory facade designed to give the whole thing the air of legitamacy.

Ta-da! We've eased unemployment, we've put the Powah of Teh Free Market to work, and we've maintained a flickering semblance of the idea of privacy. Thank me later, Amurrica.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:39 AM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


What's the difference between cops flying over back country looking for weed in a prop plane or helicopter vs. and unmanned drone?

and

I don't see how this is much worse than, say, letting the police have helicopters.

I think it's a couple of things, aside from the obvious fear factor.

First, when a police officer is flying a helicopter, he or she has a vested interest in not crashing, because a crash will take their own life. This problem does not exist with an unmanned drone, increasing the risk that the pilot will be willing to tolerate.

Second, when a police officer is observing from a helicopter, he's closer to the actual goings-on than a drone pilot is. This will increase the chance that something being observed isn't as accurately interpreted.

Third, if the costs are kept successfully low, the amount of air-based surveillance will increase significantly.

Fourth, this is a step -- and a significant one -- towards unmanned drone-based surveillance. The idea of unmanned drones flying around collecting immense amounts of footage that can (eventually) be retroactively scanned electronically for patterns of suspicious behavior really tips us a lot further into a prisoners-not-people type of scenario.

Finally, we do know that the video feeds can be trivially intercepted, granting the surveillance footage accessible to anyone, including private detectives and your nosy neighbors.

So, I think those are some notable differences.

Also:

Helicopters can't loiter unnoticed like smaller drones can, nor do they have the same surveillance mission.
posted by davejay at 9:41 AM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Unmanned drones have been flying over the San Bernardino mountains looking for marijuana crops since 2008. Usually I see advanced notice of it on the local web message board. It's been at least a year since I've seen either a notice or a drone. /anecdote.

Oh, and we're about five hours away from the Mexican border, maybe a little less if traffic is good.
posted by annathea at 9:41 AM on June 14, 2010


I mean, on the one hand, civil liberties.

On the other, it's cyberpunk as fuck.
posted by Oktober at 9:42 AM on June 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


(er, I shouldn't have italicized the "unnoticed", I was intending to add that word to someone else's quote, not make it look like an emphasized part of the quote. Sorry 'bout that.)
posted by davejay at 9:43 AM on June 14, 2010


But who then will eat all those extra doughnuts the stores used to have on hand for the police?
Tip: when they start using them in your city, convince a lot of people to wear ski masks.
posted by Postroad at 9:45 AM on June 14, 2010


notreally: "Obvious questions of legality and privacy aside, what happens if an unmanned drone causes property damage, injury or death?

I dunno. What happens if a manned swat team causes injury or death?
"

Hi fives in the backroom!
posted by symbioid at 9:46 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, we shoulda been listening to the tinfoil hats after all?

your second link scared the crap out of me until I saw it was the military and not the police.

Yeah, good thing. 'Cause, y'know, the Constitution will protect us against standing armies on US soil...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:46 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I was intending to add that word to someone else's quote, not make it look like an emphasized part of the quote.

Right, I should've included that aspect anyway. Current drones can fly much higher than helicopters, are much quieter, and can loiter for up to 14 hours. If you watch feed from Afghanistan and Iraq, it's clear that people aren't even aware that the drone is above them.

Give it a few years and these things will be smaller and quieter, and will be able to see more. Comparing them to manned helicopters is not a congruous comparison.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:48 AM on June 14, 2010


As with most of these threads where the majority of posters are upset about some additional encroachment on the rights of the people, I'm curious about this one point: what concrete action do you guys propose to actually do something about it?

I'm all for kites and shotguns, but talk is cheap. If you're going to have a revolution (which is what the authorities -- to their boundless delight -- would see it as), you might as well mean it.
posted by klanawa at 9:51 AM on June 14, 2010


backseatpilot: I'm dubious that many enforcement agencies have the budgets to afford these.

How long do you think it will take them to demand budget increases so they can buy this "absolutely necessary" new technology? Hell, the cops where I live bought a couple of military-surplus Tactical Armored Vehicles a couple of months ago ... because of "gang violence."
posted by twirlip at 9:52 AM on June 14, 2010


> I'm all for kites and shotguns, but talk is cheap.

So are kites and shotgun shells.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:53 AM on June 14, 2010


Until a significant number of people are willing to throw everything away just to shoot a drone out of the sky? Yeah... talk is cheap.

Besides, any "revolution" in the US would need the support of the armed forces, because really...they got tanks and shit, and the civilians have peashooters.
posted by kaseijin at 9:55 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, if the cops want cheap aerial surveillance, Walmart sells both lawn chairs and helium balloons.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:55 AM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Understand, too, that the above is not a dare, really. Just pointing out that all this chatter of shooting drones down is nothing but Internet hot air.
posted by kaseijin at 9:55 AM on June 14, 2010


Malice: GOD BLESS the U.S.A. (but only the Christian God)
There's no thread you can't use for this particular whetstone, is there?


If I see drones over my property, I will shoot them down with my rifle. If my government would like to know what I'm doing, they're more than welcome to write me a letter.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:57 AM on June 14, 2010


> nothing but Internet hot air.

It's mainly just people joking around. No one here is seriously advocating it.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:57 AM on June 14, 2010


This would be great if a) they are quieter than helicopters and b) private use was permitted. I'd love to have my own drone.

"Are you actually serious? Have you ever lived in LA or NYC? Because I have. Loitering is a constant. Unless there is some odd definition of loitering that I don't know about that does not mean 'hovering in one place about 400 feet up for 20 minutes'."

Is this really only a problem in Metropolises in the US? Even hick Calgary has it's own chopper.

"What's the smallest rifle that would take one of these out?"

A .22LR would suffice though with any rifle you'd have to get lucky. The aforementioned shotgun would probably be better in most cases though.
posted by Mitheral at 10:07 AM on June 14, 2010


This would be great if a) they are quieter than helicopters and b) private use was permitted. I'd love to have my own drone.

Build your own.
posted by desjardins at 10:09 AM on June 14, 2010


edbles: "Hopefully they act like birds and we can all just shut out windows and let 'em fly smack dab into them."

That or put decoy versions of larger drones on your eaves to scare them away.
posted by brundlefly at 10:11 AM on June 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


> Build your own.

I posted that one!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:12 AM on June 14, 2010


> We, as a culture, have just become too comfy with the idea of Police State and extra-judicial killings in the same of Safety to ever truly oppose this en mass. The die, I think, has already been cast.

Yeah, I have a sinking feeling this particular genie is out of the bottle and will never be stuffed back in. Surveillance equipment will continue to become cheaper, smaller and easier to deploy, and the public's attitude towards relatively innocuous innovations such as street/public transit cameras has been more or less a collective "if you're not doing anything wrong you don't have anything to worry about"-style shrug.

Being a wild-eyed, crazy optimist I hold out hope that missile-armed unmanned drones flying over cities are still a bridge too far for most people to accept at this point.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:17 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I envy the young 'uns who will have no idea that things used to be different. "You mean they had to give a judge a good reason before they listened in on your phone calls? Crazy!"

In my view, there is a sharp distinction between public behavior and privacy. I fully expect that when I am in public I am observable by anyone who cares to observe me, whether by their presence or a remote surveillance device. I'm not upset by security cameras in stores or public buildings and imaging by drones seems a logical extension of that technology that doesn't degrade my privacy as long as it doesn't encroach on my private space. And if they record it, that's fine, too, because if I do something stupid or embarrassing, well, that's my fault and if somebody alleges I did something I didn't do, well, I can prove my innocence if that time period was recorded.

Tapping phones and other invasions of privacy, by which I mean behavior and information I have every reason to expect will not be observed by others without my permission, are completely different and I will continue to object strenuously to such behavior, regardless of the administration attempting it.

That said, conflating the two seems to be unhelpful to understanding or discussion.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:19 AM on June 14, 2010


This is all about making nature and sunbathing porn! Imagine, you have hiked the requisite thirty miles to get naked in some isolated pool, but no, there is a large insect, what, an armada of large insects that perch on those rocks perpetually, looking for Hollywood stars. Imagine, you have arranged your yard, to sunbathe in the nude, unobserved, but no, because "they" want to know if you are growing an illegal plant, you have no more privacy on your own ground. Wait, we already don't have that.

Imagine you are canoeing on one of those now nonexistent lakes that straddle the US-Canadian border, and you row a little to the South, or a little to the North, and ZZZAAPPPP!!!! Just like a $20 dollar insect killing toy you buy off the shopping channel, you are toast. I can see the expert observers making little kill marks on the front edges of their cubicles, and going to lunch.

The cowardice of the haves is outrageous. Obviously they are planning to take a lot more in the future, if they need security from the rest of us, at this extreme level.
posted by Oyéah at 10:22 AM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fuck It! Drones For Everybody!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:28 AM on June 14, 2010


Given that police have shown themselves to poorly use things like tasers, guns, or even the archaic billy club, I have absolute faith they will totally and completely make society a better place with flying spy drones.

William Gates would be proud.
posted by yeloson at 10:34 AM on June 14, 2010


> Fuck It! Drones For Everybody!

Coincidentally, that's the unofficial slogan of this year's World Cup!
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:40 AM on June 14, 2010


Unmanned aircraft have proved their usefulness and reliability in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.

I have often said that probably the worst thing that could happen to the US is having the military figure out how to win a counter-insurgency war.
posted by empath at 10:46 AM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]




I'm still waiting for this thread to produce a plot that will show up in paperback....

F'rinstance, how about counter-drone drones? Or smuggler drones? Or pizza delivery drones?
posted by warbaby at 11:05 AM on June 14, 2010


Or pizza delivery drones?

This is my new favorite sitcom running gag.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:08 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm curious what will happen after the first drone crashes into someone's house. Drones are very, very reliable -- probably an order of magnitude more reliable than helicopters -- but everyone hates a risk that they can't understand or control.

As for the privacy concerns, it will get really interesting once image processing gets a little more advanced than it is now. Imagine a police department tasking a drone to follow an individual: it could watch them 24/7, tracking any vehicles they get into and watching the perimeter of any building they enter. Or imagine a drone is hooked into a city's ShotSpotter system, and can take a night-vision photo of anyone who fires a weapon anywhere in the entire city within a minute or two of the act. There are people working on this kind of technology, and it's getting very close to reality, but it's not there yet.
posted by miyabo at 11:13 AM on June 14, 2010


What's the difference between cops flying over back country looking for weed in a prop plane or helicopter vs. and unmanned drone? The fat ass donut sucker is still looking at you, whether he's in the cockpit or back at the office in front of a monitor. You know, radar was invented as a war time technology...did we get our panties in a twist when that was adopted domestically?

The answer to this and all the subsequent iterations of the same question: economies.

It's going to cost orders of magnitude less to field a tiny surveillance drone than a helicopter with a person in it. So drones are going to be able to cover much more land area, much more of the time than helicopter surveillance does. Computer analysis will narrow the cases where a donut-sucking human has to look at a display. Eventually, the surveillance will cover large swaths all of the time. Cities will be covered because high density means high crime. Rural areas will be covered because low density means it can be done cheaply.

If you don't think ubiquitous, always-on surveillance will be different from occasional, limited surveillance, you're nuts.
posted by grobstein at 11:26 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are non-evil applications for these drones, too. NASA fields a Global Hawk to collect climate change data, and there's been a lot of work on slow, high-altitude, solar-powered drones to use for scientific and comm purposes. They're being looked in to for temporary or semi-permanent relays which would be much cheaper than launching new satellites.

I think the FAA is looking far, far into the future to the eventuality of unmanned air carriers. I don't think we'll ever see passenger-carrying drones, but cargo is a real possibility - especially for a "courier" style flight profile, taking small payloads at high speed to far-off destinations. This discussion of unmanned vehicles in the National Air Space dovetails in to the FAA's work on NextGen, which will likely mandate that every flying vehicle include the sort of beacons and ad-hoc networking capabilities that will allow advanced traffic avoidance and minimal separation between aircraft. This is partly the cause of the recent push to equip everyone with Mode S transponders and ADS-B transmitters.

From a wider perspective, it's a lot less ominous than I believe is being presented here. This is the FAA looking at a severely crowded airspace system and trying to figure out just how the hell everyone is going to fit into it.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:40 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would watch drone-sniping if it showed up on youtube.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 11:50 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I'm so looking forward to building my own remote drone so I can get in dogfights with the police ones. I want the police pilots terrified that behind every cloud might lurk my Red Barron Drone waiting to add a kill to the side of the fuselage.
posted by quin at 11:58 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


THREE WORDS:

SURFACE - AIR - MISSILE
posted by yoyoceramic at 12:03 PM on June 14, 2010


Oh man, I'm so looking forward to building my own remote drone so I can get in dogfights with the police ones.

Nah man, what you do is you build a fleet of cheap untraceable autonomous solar powered hunter-killer drones that have one simple program to follow: patrol, find police drones, destroy police drones. Voila: privacy restored!
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not all that worried about law enforcement using this kind of tech. Law Enforcement is fairly constrained in what they can do by both statute and budget; while some reactionary asshole can always whip up a quick "Won't someone please think of the children" moral panic, it seems like things reset to a ground state eventually, at least in the US.

I am, however, much more worried about google having this kind of tech. If they can park a UAV over the middle of town for "automated live traffic reports", they'll start gathering all sorts of other ancillary information- much of it personally identifiable. Obviously, it's not just google. I can only imagine the iPad 90-7's release EULA- Apple would have everyone of their devices followed around by an aerostat, so if it's "misplaced" at a bar, they can zap it with a laser and melt it down to slag.
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:11 PM on June 14, 2010


Also, the hunter-killer drones should have a second program that lets them cannibalize downed police drones for spare parts. And they could also all beyond a shared intranet that lets them assemble surplus parts lists from different kills which allow them to eventually build Frankenstein drones out of the carcasses of vanquished police drones from all over a defined metropolitan area. Eventually you'd have a big enough combined fleet of regular H-Ks and zombie H-Ks to successfully take on larger drones and maybe even manned police choppers.

Also I'm super high right now.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:22 PM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Er "be part of" not "beyond". Like I said, super. high.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:22 PM on June 14, 2010


what you do is you build a fleet of cheap untraceable autonomous solar powered hunter-killer drones

While I'm always up for building autonomous robot killers, it robs me of the video-game joys of hunting the police drones myself.

The only thing that would make it better is if I could figure out some way to pipe Flight of the Valkyries or Aces High into the cop's headset as I was chasing him down
posted by quin at 12:25 PM on June 14, 2010


Oh man, I'm so looking forward to building my own remote drone so I can get in dogfights with the police ones.

Projectile weapons were initially adequate for police drones -- until the rise of terrorist-controlled drone-killers utilizing cruder, but effective weapons. Municipal authorites then had no choice but to respond in kind...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:27 PM on June 14, 2010


Isn't the use of unmanned aircraft the epitome and/or the next evolutionary step of the cause of all of this unrest - replacing American jobs?
posted by hellslinger at 12:32 PM on June 14, 2010


I am, however, much more worried about google having this kind of tech.

Really? You're more worried about Google than guys with guns? You're joking right?
posted by desjardins at 12:33 PM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Giving cops helicopters led to constant overflights in populated areas like L.A. and NYC. I don't feel like I'm under constant surveillance.
That's because you're not. But the police would be able to fly hundreds of these for the same price, with no pilots needed.
Unless there is some odd definition of loitering that I don't know about that does not mean 'hovering in one place about 400 feet up for 20 minutes'.
Try 14 hours, which is what a Predator can do.
posted by delmoi at 12:50 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sanctions for businesses employing illegal aliens – crazy.
Spending asstons of tax money to stop illegal aliens, spurring business to hire more illegal aliens to make/ship parts, etc – strategically sound.

What's the smallest rifle that would take one of these out?

It’s not the caliber it’s the targeting.
Also, it’s not worth it taking out the drone(s). They’re scattered about. It would be easier to take out the more concentrated drone monitoring installations. Theoretically. It’s possible to jam or signal hack them as well. The key is cost-effectiveness in terms of whatever the goal you’re trying to accomplish.
Knocking down a drone – piece of cake. Preventing that from attracting a swarm of drones and other vehicles and people, bit more problematic. So, maybe taking out the drone itself isn’t a goal-advancing move.
Hover one over some senators house maybe. Make the whole ‘Enemy of the State’ point. No one ever thinks they're the one that's going to be under surveillance.
Plenty of ways to expose the basic structural unfairness (as sotonohito mentioned) if there's no transparency. Use them - ok, but what binds the state from using them at whim and provides oversight so they're not abused?

A tool is only as good, bad, or dangerous as its allowed to be. Takes some work to keep people from getting all put out of kilter over their new toys.
Police state, yeah. But what's to stop Joe Cop from using his knowledge of what you do in your backyard, or (as mentioned) google, etc.

The comparison to putting troops in people's houses is fairly apt. The core philosophy there is that the CiC's war powers did not trump domestic representative government.
This does, in that sense, threaten that. Although it's a virtual, not a real presence.

But quartering of troops was oppressive not just because of the troops themselves (and the, by design, lack of oversight over their actions), but because the local population had to bear the risk (since the troops were a target) and provision them (which depleted, again in some cases by design, local food stocks, etc).

So I gotta go with the Harlan thing, it's not just the drones as a thing in themselves, but rather the threat to the the rational continuum which includes a freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:02 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Robert Sheckley wrote "Watchbird" in 1953.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:18 PM on June 14, 2010


I'm thinking things could get interesting around duck-season time.

The economy being what it is, maybe there's a market for a drone-call.
posted by Twang at 1:44 PM on June 14, 2010


Suddenly the Starcraft 2 beta feels like TRAINING!
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 1:45 PM on June 14, 2010


Vague reference to sotonohito's comment above...

I've been thinking for a while that someone more tech-savvy than me should start a company where you could buy shared airtime on a video-carrying drone service. I was thinking about one of these quad copters, but maybe a standard fixed-wing UAV would work too. Sort of like low-level Google Earth, only in real time & space.

Here's how it works:

There are a bunch of UAVs available and/or flying around your fair city. (Are they controlled through the cell phone network?) You log in to your account, pick a UAV, and start getting the video feed to your computer (phone, VR goggles). If you're the single controller, you get to pick where the UAV flies within its envelope, depending on air traffic rules, insurance etc. (I think the regulatory environment, rather than tech considerations will make this idea impractical, but who knows?)

If you're sharing, and you have enough people on board, it would be cool to sum the desires of all the participants for a flight path. Uncooperative sorts could be shunted to other UAVs, or possibly the local aquarium.

I just think it would be really great to be able to get a video feed from a UAV flying 100M over my town. I would try really, really hard to avoid crashing it into the river.

Besides, we probably need a civilian presence in the UAV airspace. Part of me thinks the police and military guys just want more toys to play with, and if they get to fly around town in something cool, I want one too, preferably at taxpayer expense! One the other hand, from one of the CBC links above:

"Prior to the findings of the independent panel, the air force had been working on a long-term strategy to acquire UAVs — known as the Joint UAV Surveillance and Target Acquisition System, or JUSTAS."

Because, you know, EVILDOERS BEWARE!!
posted by sneebler at 1:53 PM on June 14, 2010


If you're the single controller, you get to pick where the UAV flies within its envelope

I'd actually rather have the police control the UAV than any random dude with a keyboard. Have you ever been to 4chan, for example?
posted by desjardins at 1:58 PM on June 14, 2010


I'd actually rather have the police control the UAV than any random dude with a keyboard. Have you ever been to 4chan, for example?

Do you honestly think those are different users? In any behaviorally-meaningful way?

...I've known a few cops, and I don't.
posted by aramaic at 2:06 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


At least I'd know who to sue if the police crashed it into my car.
posted by desjardins at 2:09 PM on June 14, 2010


THREE WORDS:

SURFACE - AIR - MISSILE
posted by yoyoceramic at 1:03 PM on June 14



Rec.pyrotechnics just got even more interesting.
posted by mecran01 at 2:49 PM on June 14, 2010


What's the smallest rifle that would take one of these out?

I suspect that a direct hit or two from even a small-caliber rifle would severely damage a drone, but the problem would be hitting it. The longest confirmed sniper kills on record are in the 7,000-foot range, and that's horizontal distance, not straight up. It wouldn't be hard to put a drone pretty safely out of the reach of small arms fire.

There are cartridges (like some big hunting cartridges, or the 50BMG) that might have sufficient power to hit a drone at its typical cruising altitude, but you'd be talking about a 1-2 MOA shot at a fast-moving target a few thousand feet in the air. It would be very hard. (You can figure out, statistically, the average number of shots that it would take to hit a target under those conditions from a "perfect" 1MOA rifle ... shot placement follows a Gaussian distribution, so it's fairly straightforward, but this would assume you could determine its speed, direction, and distance exactly from the ground so that you could 'lead' it accurately.) You will quickly find out, I think, why most traditional anti-aircraft weapons rely either on a high rate of fire or exploding projectiles that don't need direct hits, or both.

Plus, if it was that easy to do, I'm pretty sure somebody in Iraq or Afghanistan would already have figured out how to do it. Airspace denial is a hard problem.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:09 PM on June 14, 2010


There's no rifle in existence that can shoot down something at the altitude UAVs hover at, AFAIK. And a shotgun? Keep dreaming.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:27 PM on June 14, 2010


Hmmm.... but if you attached a shotgun to another UAV first, then maybe. I just had the thought that a couple of AA-12s mounted to a UAV would make for an excellent drone-killer. A little Googling shows that, of course, a defense contractor has already come up with the idea.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:36 PM on June 14, 2010


if it was that easy to do, I'm pretty sure somebody in Iraq or Afghanistan would already have figured out how to do it

Usually different missions, though. If they're talking about using drones as aerial platforms that means they'd be relatively stationary, which makes them sitting ducks. I mean, yeah, if it gets all dystopian "Hellfire missles at Bob Smith's Barbeque" they'll be coming in hot and high. But plain-Jane "eyes-in-the-sky" would make for some fun target practice for a well-equipped .308.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:04 PM on June 14, 2010


But plain-Jane "eyes-in-the-sky" would make for some fun target practice for a well-equipped .308.

And a new level of unexpected suck for the people downrange.
posted by aramaic at 4:09 PM on June 14, 2010


It seemed pretty clear to me that we were talking about shooting down futuristic hover bots with guns, not Predators that circle above at 40k feet.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:13 PM on June 14, 2010


I believe ubiquitous flying robots with cameras are nearly inevitable, and will have a large impact on our society. Get ready!

A few years ago the U.S. Army was already interested in doing "persistent urban surveillance" with UAVs. From their solicitation:
Over recent years, much research has taken place in the fields of dismount detection and tracking in terms of persistent surveillance in general with success limited to simple perimeter intrusion detection or variations from learned, regular pedestrian traffic patterns. Even more intractable is the problem of detecting single dismounts in urban environments, associative tracking of individual dismounts, and analysis to determine dismount activity in data from multiple sensors. Success is needed in associative tracking of dismounts in urban environments and determination of patterns of adversarial intent once effective tracking has been established. The innovation here over previous work is the ability to not only perform associative tracking of individual dismounts in urban environments (meaning many dismounts going about their normal routines) but also to track long enough to recognize adversarial intent.
They want to be able to nearly continuously track people as they get in to and out of vehicles, enter and leave shops and homes, etc. They were talking about using a 25 gigapixel camera for this, which means a handful of loitering UAVs could potentially cover an entire city the size of Los Angeles.

DARPA is already working on similar projects: The Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance - Imaging System (ARGUS-IS) uses a 1.8 gigapixel camera for daytime surveillance, while ARGUS-IR is an upgraded version that will use infrared for nighttime surveillance.
posted by jjwiseman at 4:30 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


As far as UAV safety is concerned, I haven't looked lately, but there was a circa 2005 study that showed that UAVs had an accident rate that was 100 times higher than manned aircraft. I found references to a 2008 Congressional Research Service report claiming that they have only a 100% increased accident rate over manned aircraft, but I can't find the report itself and I wonder if people got confused about 100x vs. 100%.

I would expect accident rates to go down as we get more experience with the technology and procedures are improved.

Here are a couple maps showing the required reliability for a 13 ton Global Hawk and a 350 lb. Scout UAV before they could achieve 1x10^-8 fatalities per hour, based on population density (from a report by the MIT International Center for Air Transportation that used to be here, but I can't get to that site now so here are the images I saved):

http://lemonodor.com/images/uav-safety-ground-global-hawk.jpg
http://lemonodor.com/images/uav-safety-ground-scout.jpg
posted by jjwiseman at 5:17 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


jjwiseman, what does "dismount" mean in this context?
posted by desjardins at 5:17 PM on June 14, 2010


I believe the context is "dismounting" a vehicle, whether jumping out of a truck or just opening a car door and stepping out.
posted by jjwiseman at 5:40 PM on June 14, 2010


Then they're too expensive for you to have. Done and done.

As Gene Hunt would say: "End of!"
posted by juiceCake at 6:05 PM on June 14, 2010


Ref the meaning of 'dismount': in this military-industrial vernacular, it specifically means "dude who's not in a vehicle." It doesn't even imply that the dude recently got out of a vehicle, just that he's not in one.

In this context, it means the Army's UAV guys want help solving the hard problem of tracking individual persons walking/lying around outside, as contrasted with the (relatively) easier problem of tracking vehicles.
posted by Wufpak at 8:19 PM on June 14, 2010


I'm thinking things could get interesting around duck-season time.

Rabbit season!
posted by davejay at 11:55 PM on June 14, 2010


Ushering in the new DIY anti-aircraft missile hobby industry.
posted by bz at 9:13 AM on June 15, 2010


The difference is that police have skin on the line. With this kind of technology, now they're just bureaucrats in cubicles with the power to physically and materially harm you. Variations on the Milgram experiment [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment#Replications_and_variations] have shown that people make more humane decisions and are less likely to follow blindly unethical orders when there is physical proximity to the party they've been asked to harm. This outcome seems very intuitive to me. No, no and a thousand times no and fuck the fuckers who think this stuff up. Basic ethics need to have a place in all public policy decisions instead of this political theater wankery.
posted by Skwirl at 8:25 PM on June 15, 2010 [3 favorites]






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