aerial surveillance
December 22, 2011 11:10 PM   Subscribe

Surveillance from air is increasing from both military and DIY directions. Warsaw protester launches drone to spy on police

Warsaw protester launches drone to spy on police

National Geographic micro-copter takes photos, flies over the Serengeti

Four quadrocopters propel a real live human into aviation history

North Dakota Police Use Predator Drone To Catch Cow Thieves
Local authorities say the Brossarts are known for being armed, anti-government separatists. All of the surveillance occurred without a search warrant because the Supreme Court has long ruled that anything visible from the air, even if it's on private property, can be subject to police spying.

New police drones keep on top of the case

Texas county police buys drone that can carry weapons

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fly eight Predator remote-controlled aircraft to patrol U.S. borders
Border search exception provides an exemption to the fourteenth amendment clause of the U.S. Constitution that requires a warrant to search. The border is not just the border but within 100 miles of it. Two thirds of all U.S. citizens live within 100 miles of a border. This includes everyone in Michigan and Florida.

Home-made UAV with thermal cam used to hunt feral pigs

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to propose new rules for the use of small drones in January, a first step toward clearing the way for police departments, farmers and others to employ the technology.

The DIY Drones community has created the world's first "universal autopilot", ArduPilot Mega. It combines sophisticated IMU-based autopilot electronics with free Arduino-based autopilot software that can turn any RC vehicle into a fully-autonomous UAV.
posted by llc (30 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting links, two bad you left them as uninformative urls. Just fyi, Ridus appeared in comments previously as did the OccuCopter.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:19 PM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is a good post, but the html needs to be cleaned up.

The video in the first link is great.

I'm tempted to buy an RC helicopter to have ready by the inevitable spring protests.
posted by empath at 11:21 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: I cleaned up the HTML, turned them all into clickable links instead of URLs
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:21 PM on December 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Amazon, ToysRU, etc. list the Parrot AR for $300. I donno if the OccuCopter requires additional hardware, or merely the customize software though.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:26 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having just started messing around with indoor, payload-less RC helicopters, they are a, um, hell of a (see what I did there?) more difficult to actually fly than it looks. Or maybe I'm just really bad at it. Or maybe there is no fallacy of the excluded middle.

Anyway, very cool post. Also The Cove used RC helicopters for covert filming. And while not a traditional UAV, I think once again someone owes William Gibson some royalties.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:41 PM on December 22, 2011

It used to be you could pick up a toy chopper with a web-cam for around $40.
I have wanted one for filming parades and other gatherings.
To me the key idea is keep the equipment cheap and replaceable.
Learn to use it before you need the skill.
It was inevitable that border patrol would take to using drones. I don't see border security as a totally unreasonable use of drones, the problem I have is that it will bleed into drug enforcement, then other gang enforcement, it's already been used on Christian Right-Wing Extremists, ( The cattle rustling case) so it's definitely coming to the rest of us. I for one am scared.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:45 PM on December 22, 2011

I'm a little concerned that the Texas Police now have one that can carry weaponry. This shoudl be observe and report only.
posted by arcticseal at 11:57 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Interesting links, two bad you left them as uninformative urls. Just fyi, Ridus appeared in comments previously as did the OccuCopter.
Too bad the video feed from the occucopter totally sucks. Also, what's the battery/fuel life on these copters? It doesn't seem like they'd be able to stay in the air long. Maye the protesters need a miniblimp.
posted by delmoi at 12:05 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is an Arduino-based blimp (blimpduino) but it's strictlyman indoor thing.

Loiter time on the smaller copters is in the small tens of minutes range, but the tech is equally applicable to small fixed-wing aircraft, where an hour or more is not hard to achieve.
posted by nonlocal at 2:45 AM on December 23, 2011


Strictlyman? Smedleyman has a tougher brother?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:17 AM on December 23, 2011

I'm a bit disappointed in myself not knowing at all why there are protests in Warsaw this week.
posted by wilful at 4:21 AM on December 23, 2011

Amazon, ToysRU, etc. list the Parrot AR for $300.

I had a little hands-on time with one of these in our warehouse just a couple days ago. The iPhone app interface is very nice, but they're really lightweight, and my first question was how do they function outside? Not too well if there's much wind at all, according to its owner. Still, a pretty neat gadget.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:46 AM on December 23, 2011

The purple rhetoric in the ND family () article is impressive: "dangerous ... compound ... matriarch ... compound ... clan ... separatists ... ". A ranch family that doesn't like strays wandering their property is given the Gordon Kahl/David Koresh treatment.

Sure it's the Daily Mail, but there's little doubt similar language will be used in the decades to come to describe many people who aren't too hot on drones buzzing their private property.
posted by Twang at 4:48 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

GoPro cameras might work for protestors too. I don't know if either the GoProp or the Parrot AR have cameras that work well at night however. I don't know if you can get a GoPro to upload immediately either, maybe using an Eye-Fi SD card.

Ridus' helicopter looks awesome, maybe they've posted plans?
posted by jeffburdges at 6:53 AM on December 23, 2011

I'm a bit disappointed in myself not knowing at all why there are protests in Warsaw this week.

Several weeks ago. Polish Independence Day.
Several thousand right-wing nationalists and football fans were opposed by about nearly 2000 anarchists, anti-Nazi and gay-rights activists as they tried to stage a march in central Warsaw.

The right-wingers destroyed at least three police vans and two television vehicles in a rampage.

Polish opposition chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski, known for anti-German stances in the past, called the situation "symbolic".

"In the centre of the city, on Indepedence Day, Germans with a certain pyschology type similar to those who formed the machine that allowed Adolf Hitler to commit huge crimes, attacked Polish people just because they were holding national symbols," he said.

Official ceremonies marking 93 years since Poland regained independence were held across the ex-communist EU member of 38 million.
The main action in the copter video seems to involve the nationalist types. The kettled group in the mid ground seem to have been the pan-European counter-protestors.

Wired ran a story on it last month (which was linked here in one of the OWS threads).
posted by notyou at 7:37 AM on December 23, 2011

Oops. The wired story.
posted by notyou at 7:38 AM on December 23, 2011

I viewed these Octocopter videos earlier this year. I love the St. Lucia one, and the Africa and London ones. Very cool footage from the air. The perspective is awesome. Makes me wish I was a bird.
posted by JenBBB at 8:39 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

IIRC in the North Dakota case the police *did* have a warrant, but were at first rebuffed by the armed folks on the ground.

This one is a tough case. If they'd had to go looking for them on the ground it might have become a bloodbath. So in a sense this (truly appalling) use of military weaponry against the civilian population might have saved some lives. I don't think it's worth it however. The next time they use this sort of thing it won't be such a clear cut case. And they will use it to kill innocent civilians, as *always* happens eventually.

I think that this all is a consequence of the 2nd amendment being interpreted as an individual right to possess arms. I think the founding fathers' concept of a well regulated militia is a lot more like Switzerland's.
posted by zomg at 8:51 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the topic of fixed wing RC video, there's a rather awesome previously from back in 2009.

It wouldn't be great for filming specific incidents (barring some sort of VTOL craft), but hey...
posted by titus-g at 9:27 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Radio control stunt aircraft are commonly so overpowered they can takeoff or land vertically, titus-g, assuming you put landing gear on the tail. I suppose the larger engine decreases their maximum flight time, but pilot fatigue might limit flight time more. I think the autopilot is the hardest part of drone design, but that's always what lessens pilot fatigue.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:56 AM on December 23, 2011

Well, so, show me some non-lethal anti-drone weaponry already. They can't be very hard to bring down, especially if they're moving slowly enough to film something, and controlled using cheesy conventional RC controllers.
posted by newdaddy at 10:11 AM on December 23, 2011

Don't forget that you can obtain surplus military drones as well.

The one in the link is being used for finding and cracking wifi. I am not sure why we couldn't use the same tech to find crack drone control frequencies or arm it with a herf gun.

The more advanced, the more points of failure.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:46 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Shhhhhh... once the fourth estate sits up and deploys their dopplerdronenewscopter9000 squadrons, they will break news like the wind
posted by Fupped Duck at 10:58 AM on December 23, 2011

It's definitely fun to think about building an ad hoc anti-drone system[1]. You could probably build something with a couple hundred dollars at most that would take out any drone (or any jet engine, seagull style) but if you think that through I think that's why this whole thing gets really scary.

Once that arms race starts, nothing about any aspect of modern government gives any indication that it will end short of fully militarized drones and restrictions against things like arduino.

[1] Personally, I'd go the blimp route. If you keep it small and well painted it'd be almost undetectable, can be ballasted to match payload (extra batteries, cameras, arduino hardware, etc), and could stay airborne for long periods of time.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2011

My local Occupation has demostrated against a new drone manufacturing facility being imported into our state, with tons of tax incentives. The facility will be in a building that is mostly rented to artists. I know none of them got any tax incentives to set up their businesses. I want an Occucopter to watch the drone builders, through their second story windows.

I don't think people quite get where this drone thing is going. They keep imagining some individual cop sitting with a laptop doing video surveillance of some suspicious activity. No, that will not be how it works. Sure these drones have that capability but they have too little flight time on batteries to send them out after crimes, like they would with helicopter surveillance or long-duration drones like the Predator. I usually think about Marshall McLuhan's assertion that each new media fails to deliver what it promises, but the next media will deliver on that promise (and fail at its own goal).

So the next step is this: cheap, ubiquitous networked drones. A drone on every square block of a city, perhaps nested in a street light or on a rooftop, constantly communicating with Police HQ, waiting for commands. The entire city is potentially under surveillance. Something happens, the nearest drones are commanded to fly and observe. There is no drone farther than 1/2 block from any point in town. They pop up, observe everything in all directions, you can see any ground activity from multiple points of view. If the subject moves, like a car chase, more drones in that area pop up and observe, while the other drones go back to their little nests to recharge.

You think this is a paranoid fantasy? Nope, the Army and DARPA are already developing and deploying networked "Unattended Ground Sensors," a UGS . For example, the GSR-9 ground sensor:

"Hand emplaced by soldiers or ground robots, the systems enables a small unit to monitor 'urban choke points', such as corridors or stairwells, sewers, culverts and tunnels. Each sensor is equipped with wireless links transmitting target data to the gateway. When deployed, sensors are linked to a gateway system that transmits target data or situational reports back to the user, over the brigade's wideband data network. In future scenarios, these sensors will provide the outposts for small units, equipped with unmanned systems and precision attack munitions."

Okay, now imagine those networked sensors attached to small drones. They can observe the area while parked, and fly into action instantly. AND they are easily weaponized.

And as a weapon, small drones like a quadrotor helicopter really are perfect for just one purpose: assassination. You just attach a block of C-4 explosive to the bottom with some shrapnel embedded. Fly it out near a position where the target is known to travel, park it on the ground somewhere it won't be seen. Wait for the target to approach, maybe using a network of unattended ground sensors, which can be dropped from other UAVs, or even with binoculars from miles away. Target approaches on foot or in a vehicle, send the drone into flight, fly it over the target, BOOM.

The military is developing tons of new uses for these robotic surveillance devices, and turning them into weapons. I haven't been able to find a document I saw (IIRC it was on FAS.ORG) that described a deployment method of a weaponized sensor grid. It's like a minefield, deployed from an aircraft or artillery. A cluster bomb-like projectile bursts over the target area. It spreads a group of hundreds of networked sensors and networked explosives the size of grenades. They spread over a large area where the enemy is expected to approach. When the sensors see soldiers approaching via video, or feel them via seismic sensors, the grid of small grenades is detonated near the target. Or wait for the whole squad to walk into the "area denial system" and then blow them all up at once.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:27 PM on December 23, 2011

Oh.. I forgot to add a link. Here is a PDF describing the Army E-IBCT program. On page 3 of this PDF you will see the XM156 UAV, and the XM216 SUGV (Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle) that coordinate their data with the GSR-9 sensor grids. In particular, note that these robotic surveillance devices carry laser designators, they can paint a target with a laser dot that can be targeted from aircraft or even artillery from miles away.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2011

Twang, The Mail's purple prose has a parallel with politicians and pundits. Demonization is the first step so we have eco-terrorists and drug lords. I suppose it re-assures some people that policies and practices will only be applied to the other.

zomg, The cattle rustling crime may not have justified the use of the Predator. But, if the police had not prevailed, there would have been a demonstration that, with sufficient firepower, your compound is outside the reach of law. Police must try to minimize their rick of injury. And now there is a precedent that using a Predator is an acceptable way to reduce risk.

charlie don't surf, I don't quite get where this is going and I'm still depressed. Military power seems to be accelerating and the police are being militarized. Perhaps the Department of Justice should declare the Posse Comitatus Act quaint. What if someone decides to win the War On People Who Use Drugs ? Or decides to "solve" the illegal immigration "problem" ? And technology always gets cheaper and better and into the hands of criminals.
posted by llc at 2:30 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Perhaps the Department of Justice should declare the Posse Comitatus Act quaint

The Posse Comitatus Act isn't anything like the barrier that its popularly thought to be, right now. Here's a detailed analysis covering the history of the act, including how it has been eroded since its inception in the Reconstruction era.

Since it's only a piece of Federal legislation, rather than a Constitutional limitation on Federal power, it can and has been modified by other, less well-known, laws.

Anyone who is depending or counting on Posse Comitatus, as implemented in Federal law, to limit the military from being used in a police role is going to be very surprised at the lack of protection it provides.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:33 PM on December 24, 2011

« Older "Because clouds are boundless, weather control is...   |   LARGE MOUND FORMS OVER SIMONOV'S GRAVE BY CONSTANT... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments