An Open Letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt on Drones


As fellow believers in the transformational power of technology, we at the DC Area Drone User Group were surprised and saddened to read of your recent comments in multiple fora urging increased restriction on the use of small drones. These positions are particularly surprising coming from the Chairman of Google in light of your organization’s admirable support of the World Wildlife Fund’s efforts to combat poaching using drones and Matternet’s research into developing drones to deliver medicine in Africa.

Ironically, right now due to FAA restrictions it is personally owned drones that are better positioned than government or corporate owned ones to be used for social good in the U.S. The DC Area Drone User Group is currently conducting a community service project with a park in our local area creating aerial trail videos and overhead maps to help the park manager track changes over time in plant and animal species inhabiting the area. It is illegal for the park to operate a drone themselves without going through a process with the FAA that is in practice too complicated and expensive for a small, local government entity to manage. It is also illegal for them to hire someone to operate a drone on their behalf since current regulations prohibit the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems. However, it is entirely legal for us to use our drones on a volunteer basis to help them better understand their own resources, an activity we are happy to help them with in an era where our public institutions are being asked to do more with less.

You suggest that terrorists might use drones for nefarious purposes. However, similar technologies have already been available for years. RC aircraft, ground vehicles and watercraft have been around for decades with people mounting cameras and other payloads on them. And just because terrorists have used Gmail to communicate in the current era, in much the same way they used telephones in the past, does not mean that the world would be better off if we had restricted use of email and telecommunication technologies to government and big business. Are you suggesting that any new technology should be suppressed because it might be used for anti-social purposes? The answer to these challenges is to ban terrorism, murder, theft, and invasion of privacy, as we have already done. Restricting access to specific technologies is always a losing game as bad actors will simply find new tools to cause harm to our society.

What your comments exemplify is a trend, unfortunately common in our society, where some people are afraid to see individuals gain access to tools that in the past have been the exclusive domain of governments and big corporations. As drone technology has become cheaper, smaller, and easier to use, we are seeing ordinary citizens and community groups become self-sufficient in areas where they previously had to rely on others. Farmers can check on the health of their own crops from the sky without having to pay for expensive manned aviation. Communities can map their own natural resources without having to buy costly satellite imagery.

Personally owned flying robots today have the power to change the balance of power between individuals and large bureaucracies in much the same way the Internet did in the past. And just as the military researchers who developed GPS for guiding munitions could never have imagined their technology would be used in the future to help people conduct health surveys in the world’s poorest countries or help people find dates in the world’s richest, there is a whole world of socially positive and banal applications for drones that are yet to be discovered. We should embrace this chance that technology provides instead of strangling these opportunities in their infancy. Our hope is that you and the rest of Google’s leadership will embrace this pro-technology agenda in the future rather than seeking to stifle it. We would welcome the opportunity to speak further with you about this topic.

Timothy Reuter
President and Founder
DC Area Drone User Group
http://www.dcdrone.org

The DC Area Drone User Group is a community organization that seeks to promote the use of flying robots for community service, artistic, entrepreneurial, and recreational purposes.

Views: 6085

Comment by Patrick Egan on April 23, 2013 at 7:11am

Don't be surprised if Google moves in big on drones. There is only one entity that has a proven track record and could handle all of this information with the public's trust on privacy...  I could easily see it coming off of a teleprompter near you.


T3
Comment by Krzysztof Bosak on April 23, 2013 at 7:25am

I don't think they can handle the technology. Compared to anything that flies, their cars with multiple cameras hav much higher yield and require much less skill. The best they could do would be some sort of aerial panoramio website, in that area, however, they are neither leading nor they have an easy ticket to be the best. Therefore I think their strategy is to shut it down, exactly as it looks. At best they will try to make some not-so friendly takeovers. Large companies only tend to look innovative, in their mature stage, they are buying complete solutions and undermine them before buying in order to make it easier.

Comment by Chuck on April 23, 2013 at 7:48am

Timothy,

Well written letter, and good examples used to justify drones for good.

Interestingly enough Google hasn't always been the big guy in the room. Two I can think of is cell phones and cars. As big as Google is they have felt what it is like to be the small guy in the room. It really baffles me why he would make a stand like this. It is almost impossible to break into the auto or cell markets, both of which Google has done or is doing to some extent.


Developer
Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on April 23, 2013 at 8:00am

Two thumbs up, great letter Tim.

Comment by Adam Haggerty on April 23, 2013 at 8:13am

Really well spoken, my thoughts exactly.  A lot could be said about Google's misdoings and rampant invasion of privacy.

This is a company that I really respected in its infancy.  Sad.

Comment by John Wiseman on April 23, 2013 at 10:11am

"Compared to anything that flies, their cars with multiple cameras hav much higher yield and require much less skill."

Compared to following traffic laws and avoiding collisions on roadways thick with other unpredictable, fast-moving obstacles, flying is much easier, technically.  If flying vehicles had been allowed at DARPA's first Grand Challenge, I think there would have been multiple finishers instead of zero.

Comment by Chuck on April 23, 2013 at 10:21am

I believe the article on DIYDrones previously on Schmidt's comments was spot on. Schmidt sees "small drones" as a threat to their investment. Today the only way to get the Google Map terrain data is really satellite and airplanes, the entry cost to satellite is absurd and no sub-billion dollar company can enter that market. Airplanes are easier but they take pilots, fuel is also expensive, and logistics is similar to street view. 

So when Schmidt sees that a sub $1000 drone can produce the same data they have payed millions if not billions for, he sees a competitive advantage dying, when big companies see that they do one thing.... Send lobbyists! It is a sad state of affairs that Google has now grown so large they are avoiding creating something better as a competitive advantage and instead they are going to spend those resources in order to prevent competition.

Sadly us private RC operators are going to be caught in the middle of this one.

Comment by JP on April 23, 2013 at 10:50am

@Chuck Spot on! Google sees this technology as a major threat

Comment by The Sun on April 23, 2013 at 10:59am

Comment by Göran Sandström on April 23, 2013 at 1:27pm

@Chuck & @Tim Green - You are spot on both of you! As I've said before, this stinks of Google Earth fear....

But it's gonna happen anyway, Google won't be making drones illegal in Sweden, it isn't going to happen and I think it will be the same for some other countries in europe as well. If they are illegal in other parts of the world and we don't have a sudden surge in violations of privacy and terrorism, but instead have awesome mapping, then the true nature of these statements will become very clear. Google is digging a grave of distrust, now that they've truly violated their "Don't be evil" motto.

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