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Civilian Use of Drone Aircraft May Soon Fly In the US 196

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-get-a-drone-you-get-a-drone-everybody-gets-a-drone dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from the Seattle Times: "Drone aircraft, best known for their role in hunting and destroying terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, may be coming soon to the skies near you. Police agencies want drones for air support to find runaway criminals. Utility companies expect they can help monitor oil, gas and water pipelines. Farmers believe drones could aid in spraying crops with pesticides. 'It's going to happen,' said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Association. 'Now it's about figuring out how to safely assimilate the technology into national airspace.' That's the job of the Federal Aviation Administration, which plans to propose new rules for using small drones in January, a first step toward integrating robotic aircraft into the nation's skyways."
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Civilian Use of Drone Aircraft May Soon Fly In the US

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  • FTFY (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "Drone aircraft, best known for their role in hunting and destroying houses and children"

    • Re:FT"FTFY"FY (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "The US military, best known for their role in hunting and destroying houses and children"

      • Re:FT"FTFY"FY (Score:5, Interesting)

        by quenda (644621) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:22PM (#38210132)

        That's not just a troll. The drones get much bigger headlines (just outside the USA?) for blowing up wedding parties and other civilians, than for killing enemies, even though they hopefully do the latter more often.
        I was going to comment about blowing up allied border posts, but that particular massacre was done by piloted planes. So are drones really the problem?
        Are drone pilots any more detached from the carnage than the WWII high-altitude incendiary bomber crews?

        As for civilian use, we could use a couple of these for aerial shark patrols. Not too dangerous flying over the ocean. They could even be armed with a .50 cal gun.

  • by Leebert (1694) * on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:26PM (#38209196)

    "Begun, the Drone Wars have."

  • How shall we count them?

    Traffic reporting
    Speeders/ Speed traps Hey someone has to pay for Maintenance, Fuel and Pilot for this thing!
    Forestry service
    Fire fighting
    surveillance (Abuse of powers, Gonna happen)
    Night vision, Infrared/Thermal imaging
    Knock, Knock! Who's there!? Search Warrant!
    BOOM! precision guided munition right into your toilet.

    Let's not forget alien Centipedes for Senator assasinations.

    • by zlives (2009072) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:34PM (#38209264)
      Ooh, target practice
      • by evanism (600676)

        hehe. Shoot them out of the air. That would be fun!

        • Yeah...except, you know, somebody will have to buy new ones then. And if it was a federal controlled one, that one is *you* with your tax money.
    • Wild hog killing machines. Yes! Damn things are a menace. The breed like rats and can grow to ungodly proportions. Some bigger ones are often fearless. Sit home in a recliner and "X-Box" our way to population control. Aerial hog hunting is legal in Texas provided you have a license and both the chopper and weapons are manned. But, there's nothing in the law preventing drone technology either so... good times I think.

  • by monzie (729782) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:32PM (#38209244) Homepage

    Kite Fighting [wikipedia.org] is a common festival in many parts of Asia. In a few years from now, imagine if a bunch of dudes do that with drones ( and the drones shooting at each other with Spud Guns in mid-air).

    It will soon become and industry of its own. Microsoft and Sony will soon come out with Fighter Drones.

    Microsoft's will have a "ring of death" ( It'll circle your house twice before crashing into your house and destroying the ceiling/attic.

    Sony's will have the ability to fly carrying a dog as a passenger. But one day it'll disable it via software update and your mutt will no longer be able to fly.

    Nintendo will come out with a cheaper, smaller drone will require you to flap your arms like a bird, which the drone will faithfully imitate.

    I see a good future for the gaming industry with this.

  • ...people from taking pot shots at them, be it with firearms, slingshots, toy rockets, what have you. I suppose that the best way to prevent this from happening is to make them so hideously expensive to insure or operate that no one bothers.

    • I don't see what's to stop people from taking pot shots at them...

      The SWAT team that will kick in your door and haul you away.

    • by artor3 (1344997) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:52PM (#38209452)

      Do you also smash speed limit signs? Torch cop cars? Maybe you don't like TV, so you dig up and cut cables? To hell with all the anarchists who want society to be like the wild west. Believe it or not, we already have flying machines that can do all these things. Drones just make them cheaper and more accessible to everyone.

      Go ahead. Shoot one down, if you want. If you're that violent a person, society will be better off with you in prison.

    • by TopSpin (753) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:06PM (#38209560) Journal

      taking pot shots at them

      Cops routinely round up numpties that point lasers at pilots. You go firing at a UAV that is most likely returning real-time video of your brilliant self to the operator and you can bet they'll be at your door inside an hour with a picture of you drawing a bead someone's expensive aerospace equipment.

      Have you not seen the video out of Iraq or Afghanistan of individual insurgents being hunted down by UAVs? Just replace the Hellfire with a patrol car and you've got the picture.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @11:45PM (#38210650)

        Have you not seen the video out of Iraq or Afghanistan of individual insurgents being hunted down by UAVs? Just replace the Hellfire with a patrol car and you've got the picture.

        Are you suggesting that civilian UAVs should be outfitted to fire rocket-propelled patrol cars at ground targets? Because that sounds simultaneously awesome and impractical.

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:28PM (#38210160)

      ...people from taking pot shots at them, be it with firearms, slingshots, toy rockets, what have you. I suppose that the best way to prevent this from happening is to make them so hideously expensive to insure or operate that no one bothers.

      Discharge of firearm in a populated area: bad, jail bad.

      Slingshots: good luck hitting a small, erratically moving target 20 stories up.

      Toy rockets: you got a gyro guidance system with optical tracking on that thing?

      What have you: apparently you have nothing that can take out a drone, even the guns aren't going to be easy, trying to hit a 2' target at 100+ yards with a major elevation change.

      Insurance: is based on risk, it's a business. The only way risk will be increased by lawmakers is if the chance for lawsuit is increased. Since most applications are downright illegal right now, drones are un-insurable. As for liability after they are legal, how much damage can 2 lbs of plastic do falling on whatever? O.K., now, how much damage does a Cessna do when it crashes while flying low for pipeline monitoring, crop dusting, etc.?

      People hate change, drones are change. Don't hate the drones, they really are better than what we had before.

      Go ahead and hate the people who will misuse them, but remember that you don't need to fly to install cameras on every intersection, automatic license plate readers in every squad car, or facial recognition cameras at the entry to every store.

      • Depending on the size and complexity of the drone, I would wire up an appropriately-sized radio control airplane(or copter) with a camera and a light payload of explosive, probably using a servo instead of electronic signal as the detonator for safety reasons. It would be more expensive than firing off a few rounds, but the fact that the oppressors paid a hundred or even a thousand times more for their drone than I did would be worth it.

        Drones (and drone operators) are extremely ill-suited to dealing w
        • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @11:54PM (#38210706)

          Depending on the size and complexity of the drone, I would wire up an appropriately-sized radio control airplane(or copter) with a camera and a light payload of explosive, probably using a servo instead of electronic signal as the detonator for safety reasons. It would be more expensive than firing off a few rounds, but the fact that the oppressors paid a hundred or even a thousand times more for their drone than I did would be worth it.

          Stick with rifles, you'll have a hell of a time hitting it with an RC aircraft and they're more likely to know you did it - with the rifle you can shoot from a concealed location and disappear before they can find you. Either way, gunshots or flying explosive charges around, your're in jail when caught.

          Drones (and drone operators) are extremely ill-suited to dealing with level playing fields. But you're right about everything else, though. Guess its time to move to a rural area, growing and hunting all of my food and saving up enough money to flee the country before its military is turned loose against the general population.

          Point of the article is that drones are shrinking. Sure, the Predator is the size of a 707, but take a look at Switchblade [avinc.com], smaller than the RC plane you can get at your hobby shop, faster too, not cheaper, but it costs less than your legal fees will trying to deal with the legal charges you'll face for putting RC explosives into the air.

          The rural area plan sounds good, but unless you can afford hundreds of acres, it's not much more secure than living in a normal city. And, as for fleeing, to where? Try to take comfort in the fact that we've got less than 1% of our population in the military [wikipedia.org], half of them as reservists, even if the military does consume nearly 5% of our GDP, those numbers have been generally falling from 10% of GDP and more soldiers (in absolute numbers) in 1960.

          • by d3ac0n (715594) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @12:52AM (#38210988)

            but take a look at Switchblade, smaller than the RC plane you can get at your hobby shop, faster too

            Hate to break it to you, but Hobbyist FPV (First Person View) RC pilots have been building and flying planes that are smaller AND faster than that, with greater range.

            From the spec sheet:

            Size: Unlisted. but from the picture it appears to be roughly 2 feet long, with a 1.5 foot wing span.

            Weight: 5kg!! This is VERY heavy for a UAS of this size. Most short range FPV birds clock in less than 4kg, preferably closer to 2 or 3. Long range birds weight more, mostly due to larger batteries.

            Speed: 55knots (a bit over 63mph) about average for a UAS of this size, there are MANY very cheap foamy planes in use right now as FPV platforms that will easily crest 100mph. (Stryker, Funjet)

            Range: 5KM Again, fairly average for a plane this size. For FPV round trips, that's 2.5km out and back. Many FPV planes can go 5 out and back, 10 out and back and more. So 5km one way isn't impressive.

            So it's not faster, not smaller, and yes, not cheaper. Mostly because it's a flying bomb, NOT the type of plane we are likely to see used for reconnaissance. Don't get me wrong, it's a great tool. Just not what you thought it was for.

            In truth, the private sector is very far ahead of the military in regards to small UAS craft. Mostly due to hobbyists pursuing it on their own. If you see a drone up in the sky, you can bet it isn't big brother, it's probably your neighbor from down the street.

          • I'm not sure what Predator you've been looking at, but the MQ-1 [wikipedia.org] is similar in size/speed/weight to a Cessna 172, not a 707.
      • Jam it.
  • by Dutchy Wutchy (547108) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:36PM (#38209274)
    Japan has been using UAVs for agriculture for years. Pretty cool stuff.
    http://benpheneverything.wordpress.com/2009/08/19/robotic-crop-dusting-in-japan/ [wordpress.com]
    http://www.gizmag.com/go/2440/ [gizmag.com]
  • Fourth Amendment (Score:4, Informative)

    by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:41PM (#38209326)

    This has major fourth amendment implications--When technology is in use by the civilian public, there is supreme court precedent saying the fourth amendment generally doesn't reach it. (An old thermal imaging case.)

    • Re:Fourth Amendment (Score:5, Interesting)

      by failedlogic (627314) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:20PM (#38209664)

      I don't know which "thermal imaging" case you're referring to, but I am troubled by police using helicopters to find grow houses using thermal imaging and then getting a warrant to search the place.

      Every time there's a new technology it seems the police want to jump on it. Crime levels have been falling. Yet we're spending more money on policing. This is the case in many major cities. Our city wanted to cut back our Fire service so the Cops could get a larger cut. If the police want to fight fires too, be my guest, until then stop invading on our privacy and turning our nice, (relatively) peaceful society into a police state. Its not like any appreciable increase in police or crime fighting technology has or will demonstrably deter or reduce crime.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You certainly do have an appropriate name. "Crime levels have been falling, yet we're spending more money on policing". Hmm, I guess there's zero possibility the second has anything to do with the first eh?

      • I know for a fact that the power company will alert the local police if a house has higher-than-average power consumption (a telltale sign of a grow operation).
    • by jasno (124830)

      "in use by the civilian public... fourth amendment generally doesn't reach it"

      Can you cite the case? I was curious about this - if a civilian uses technology the police aren't allowed to, can the civilian's report serve as probable cause? If that's the case, why don't police use more private contractors to break the law for them?

      Regardless, even though the Supremes have declared it illegal for police to use IR cameras, they're doing it anyway: http://reason.com/blog/2008/12/06/gotcha [reason.com]

      So what about drone de

      • Kyllo, maybe? You'll find it in a second if you google it. Florida v. Reilly is also relevant, I think. (re: airplanes and the fourth amendment).

  • The eye in the sky
    That flies low and high
    Is anon and nigh.,
    • by hguorbray (967940) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:53PM (#38209472)
      so, when it comes time to take out escalating OWS protesters -will it be done via security contractors in India or Pakistan? that would be too ironic...

      only problem is -they might decide to take out the police -as the members of the Afghan military have done so often against the Alliance

      In ancient Rome towards the end they would only allow foreign troops inside Rome to prevent coups and popular uprisings from having a sympathetic or communicative military...

      -I'm just sayin'
      • by Bucky24 (1943328)

        In ancient Rome towards the end they would only allow foreign troops inside Rome to prevent coups and popular uprisings from having a sympathetic or communicative military...

        Of course in Rome that only happened about 200 times...

  • by RichMan (8097) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:44PM (#38209370)

    The small copters should be autonomous and stream media to wifi.
    Get it to follow a reporter/protestor into a situation like a Occupy eviction.

    My camera, its up there. The foottage of you punching me in the face, that's already on google.

    • by Bucky24 (1943328)
      In a situation like that don't you think the camera-drone would probably be shot out of the sky?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Our spectrum jammers, they're already deployed. We received information that terrorists were planning to disrupt your protest to make your protest's message look bad while causing panic and fear. Their nefarious plans to harm you and your cause rely on wifi access. This area has therefore been designated a no wifi frequency zone for your safety and protection, as well as to guard your right to express yourselves freely without terrorist interference. Please excuse any temporary inconvenience this may ca

      • There are lots and lots of frequencies you can transmit video on, you can even put it spread spectrum across the police tactical frequencies - if they want to jam you, they'll take out their own C&C.

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          There are lots and lots of frequencies you can transmit video on, you can even put it spread spectrum across the police tactical frequencies -

          It is really really hard to put a full framerate video stream through a 7.5kHz pipe, even using "spread spectrum" or a digital voice mode.

          The last new video streaming device for cops and fire had to get a waiver from the FCC so they could use amateur frequencies in the 70cm band. They couldn't find anyplace else to send the video back. Well, they could, but they'd have to redesign the hardware to use a different frequency and that would be Too Hard For Human Engineers. (google: recon robotics).

          • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @12:07AM (#38210772)

            If you're going guerrilla, there's no 7.5KHz pipe restriction, those restrictions are purely based on national laws, and most radios are developed for international markets, compliance is handled in software. Many of the better selling radios are easily modded (against the instruction manual) to operate in modes that aren't legal anywhere.

            Having said that, yes, full frame-rate video transmission is a bitch, quadruplely so for 1080p (to get wide field coverage with good detail on what you really wanted to see). But, a FHSS radio TX-RX pair that can handle it over 1km will cost less than $3K [vfmstore.com].

            • by d3ac0n (715594)

              FHSS radios are HORRIBLE for transmitting video. Not only is the bandwidth not nearly enough, but the 2.4Ghz range sucks, and the frequency hopping absolutely hoses up the video recording back at the base station. And those radios you linked to are WAAAAY to bulky and power-sucking for use in an FPV craft of hobbyist size. Maybe in a Giant Scale craft, but that's not going to be hovering over your protest without being noticed rather quickly.

              Spend some time over on the FPV boards at RCGroups. They will

              • Video over FHSS isn't ideal, but it can be done, and, yes, I didn't bother to look up Freewave, microHard or the other good digital radio suppliers, mostly because I've never seen them publish price or specs on the web (doesn't mean they're not there, just that I have been working from supplied datasheets that are easier to find and more complete than anything I've ever seen on the web.)

                Traditional video radio links work better, that's why they're traditional. I was responding to a hypothetical scenario wh

    • Yup, been done in Europe already [rawstory.com]. Check the video of the protestor in Warsaw who used a camera to fly over police lines.

  • Some of these 'drones' that will be available aren't going to be much larger than R/C airplanes.

  • DIY Drones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Brian Stretch (5304) * on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:55PM (#38209478)

    Civilians are already building their own drones. See DIY Drones [diydrones.com], etc.

    Personally I'd like to see a drone airship that can hold a stable position around 70,000 feet (~21km) to use as a WiFi relay, which would fix the problem of getting a clear line-of-sight for point-to-point long-range wireless but good. I doubt it can be done reliably though. But if it could, and you built a fleet of them linked with Open Mesh [open-mesh.com], you could build a global drone communications network for fairly cheap. Call it Skynet... oh.

    • Only problem is: Wifi does not do 21km links, more like 100 feet [wikipedia.org]. Except if you have ultra-directional, amplified emitter-receivers at both ends.

    • Call it Skynet... oh.

      Call it a Stratellite [wikipedia.org].

    • Take out the "stable" requirement, just require them to maneuver enough to keep decent spacing - now you can do it with solar powered balloon platforms. Sure, 80% of them will end up over the ocean, but if you make them reflective you can help reduce global warming, cost to inflate is probably far less than 1/5th the cost to orbit (assuming you can use something other than Helium...), and if the reflectivity is tunable, you might be able to do some weather control with directed heating/cooling of the ocean

  • See and avoid... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:56PM (#38209482)
    Thus eviscerating the decades old policy of "see and avoid" as the bedrock of flight in this country. And the rest of the world.

    Drones are both too small to see easily and have no pilot on board that can see any conflicting traffic.

    Anyone want to open a pool to bet on how soon a drone gets sucked into a major airliner's jet intake and causes a crash? Yeah, big jets fly really high -- unless they are landing or taking off or approaching an airport. Drones fly really low -- right where the GA small-aircraft fly.

    • Thus eviscerating the decades old policy of "see and avoid" as the bedrock of flight in this country. And the rest of the world.

      Most of the rest of the world has lightened up about "see and avoid," especially for drones that are smaller and fly lower than migratory birds. The US is falling behind in drone application business development... (cue Dr. Strangelove / Gen. Turgidson's "we cannot allow a mineshaft gap" speech.)

  • What's the big deal? The pilots on a commercial flight are just there to make the passengers feel better.
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:16PM (#38209622) Homepage Journal

      What's the big deal? The pilots on a commercial flight are just there to make the passengers feel better.

      No, they are not. I wish people would stop repeating this stupid myth. Airline pilots do an enormous amount of work during a flight, particularly takeoff and landing. It may well be that their jobs could be automated away, or that this will be possible in the near future, but it's nowhere near happening yet.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Well I don't think that's entirely true, yet. Pilots do operate their aircraft themselves a lot, especially when talking about airliners.

      But for the rest I wonder what this "integration problem" is. Communication with traffic control can be automated. When it comes to choosing flight paths, altitudes, and general collision avoidance pilots already have not much if any say in the matter, they follow instructions from the tower. Sure they can request routes, but have to get permission to do it. In a way it d

      • Sorry, this is not true. VFR aircraft have a LOT of leeway in airspace that isn't Class A (above 18,000), Class B (around huge airports), Class C (around less huge airports) or Class D (around other towered fields). You don't ever have to talk to ATC if you are flying VFR and stay out of that airspace. You can request specific routes on an IFR (an instrument) flight - in many cases they'll be approved, sometimes not - but many flights are not IFR. There are airways - which doesn't involve specifying the ty
  • I'm uncomfortable with this, but I'm having trouble understanding exactly why. Maybe it's that I think law-and-order should remain a point-of-tension that requires special effort on behalf of law enforcement, and that tension serves a number of reasonable social purposes; discreet direct action should probably remain possible.

    Maybe I'm fighting the tide, and maybe I should find a way to pin down my discomfort more, but this still is uncomfortable for me.

  • Amazon (Score:3, Funny)

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  • by cosm (1072588) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (3msoceht)> on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:11PM (#38209590)
    I did a college project and built a simple drone with Arduino parts and some model RC stuff. We had to come up with a business plan to present commercial applications for there are many:

    firefighters need a temp profile of a building before they get there, send the drone
    cops need eyes in the sky to find a perp, send the drone
    high volume roadway monitoring, send the drone
    video taping sports events (highschool, private, college, racing, etc), send the drone
    monitoring wildlife/forestry/national park outdoorsey stuff, send the drone
    weather monitoring and remote sensing in harsh environments, send the drone
    Anything that requires helicopter eyes in the sky but doesn't need to transport human or heavy payloads (air fuel is not cheap)
    many more than not 4th amendment violations, send all the drones you got baby.

    With all the good that could come of this technology, I guarantee the loss of civil liberties and privacy will be ten-fold larger. First to market will make lots of money once they pay off the FAA and get through the red tape. Lockheed/Northrop/Boeing/large DoD contractors have the lock on the drone market for the gov't now, once a large demand is created in the non-government sector, we'll see more of these stateside once the red-tape and matters are worked out. Where drones are better at some things overseas, they will be utilized that way here as well (hopefully, but not guaranteed, to be ordinance free). Naturally drones are nothing new, the barriers to entry are cost, FAA regs, demand. But once contractors get the lock and private firms/governments see/feel/create the need, drones will become another fact of life here in Panopticonland.
  • The problem has been that the FAA and pilots have been holding this up I think. You need a pilots license to fly a drone here and that is sad.

    Drone applications don't all have to be draconian in nature. There are a multitude of uses for them and they can help us with a variety to tasks. It will also help open up a high tech market sector for them here in the USA, I hope. This is one of my favorite subjects being I am in school for mechanical engineering stuff. Next year, I think they will turn me loose on

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      I understand strict requirements for being allowed to fly a drone. They're largely in their own control; if you make a mistake in the programming bad things may happen. Most are small, and not of building-destroying grade like a commercial airliner, yet being hit by normal sized RC model aircraft hurts badly at best, and may kill someone.

      Now of course there may be different kinds of drone, anything between a dumb RC craft that will fall out of the sky if you're not controlling it directly, to a fully autom

      • by lexsird (1208192)

        It makes sense in the fact that you don't put it up into obvious traffic lanes and cause a wreck. Being a pilot you should know about these things. It's a safety issue, of course. I think every department should have a fast, quiet, small VTOL drone that's reliable and easy to operate. HQ can dispatch one quickly to access situations if need be, the applications in regards to law enforcement are a multitude.

        Commercial applications of it are amazing too. I hate to "drone" on and on.

  • I just hope that they find a way of preventing Muslims form controlling them. Otherwise they could be coming to a window near you soon.
  • ...sex in the garden then, with spy drones flying about the neighbourhood.
  • Other uses (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:41AM (#38213878)

    1) intimidating crowds of protesters
    2) mass delivery of casual pepper spray
    3) spying on any person/house/field
    4) following vehicles remotely
    5) issue speeding tickets remotely
    6) back-up air support for raids (Branch Davidian debacle)

    Until I see law enforcement acting responsibly with the power they already have I am not a fan of giving them more.

  • Pilots world wide are required to speak english. How do drones talk to ATC? Also, when one of these crashes they won't be able to blame the pilot so we'll have court battles between the companies who own/operate them and the manufacturer unless these are the same, in which case it's clear who to sue.

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