Saturday, December 22, 2012
Documentary: America's use for Domestic Drones
"I don't think it's crazy to worry about weaponized drones. There is a real consensus that has emerged against allowing weaponized drones domestically. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended against it," warns Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU, noting that there is already political pressure in favor of weaponization:
“At the same time, it is inevitable that we will see [increased] pressure to allow weaponized drones. The way that it will unfold is probably this: somebody will want to put a relatively ‘soft’ nonlethal weapon on a drone for crowd control. And then things will ratchet up from there.”
Physical Sciences hasn’t released pictures of its InstantEye UAV, which has four propellers and is designed to hover for about 20 minutes. “Our customers have asked us not to be too public about it,” says Vaneck. But, the company did demo it this year for Senator Scott Brown when he visited PSI.
PSI, says Vaneck, studied insects and small birds to “understand how they can fly through a very cluttered environment, and most of the time not collide with anything. When they do collide, they bounce off, reorient themselves, and go about their business.” The same is true for InstantEye.
Physical Sciences is aiming for a $300 price tag. “We are talking about inexpensive enough to be on a Walmart or a Brookstone shelf,” Vaneck says.
Which raises the question: What will Walmart shoppers be scoping with their $300 UAVs? Sure, some may look for lost dogs, but I wonder whether others might check out that awesome-sounding backyard barbecue next door. Companies could spy on competitors by hovering outside office windows, using high-resolution cameras to read notes left on a whiteboard.
“From a personal privacy standpoint, I certainly wouldn’t want someone flying one over my house while I’m outside playing with my kid,” says Vaneck. “It’s going to be a fairly sticky situation when it comes to civilian use and privacy. But right now, our customer is the US government.”
FAA spokesman Les Dorr says the agency is working on rules that would govern “small unmanned aircraft,” including “ways to address the privacy issues.” In August, US Representative Edward Markey, a Malden Democrat, released draft legislation intended to ensure that privacy is part of the FAA’s rule-making process.
“We think that basic privacy safeguards need to be put in place,” says Giselle Barry, a spokeswoman for Markey. “Who will operate these aircraft, where will they be flown, what data will be collected?”
As is often the case, legislators and regulators are racing to keep up with the market. “UAVs have been considered the domain of the military, because of the high price point,” says Peverill. “But there’s a lot of demand, now that prices have been coming down so rapidly.” His start-up plans to launch a campaign on the fund-raising website Kickstarter later this year, and begin delivering FocalPlanes in 2013.