I'm posting this because I feel honestly conflicted about something that's come up. As readers of this blog know, one of my side projects is making Unmanned Aerial Vehicles ("drones") and the technology that goes into them. Everything I do is open source, and I share much of it here. There are also loads of other open source UAV projects, led by amateurs from Germany to Australia.
People often think of UAVs as military tools, whether as spy planes or Hellfire-launching robot weapons. We're hoping to change that perception by showing how useful UAVs can be for everything from commercial geomapping to scientific sensing. But the UAV-as-weapon concern is persistent, and many people have asked whether we, by making the technology available and easy to use, might be inadvertently be helping our enemies.
My usual response is that the technology is out there anyway, and by doing things in public we're just making it easier for authorities to know what's possible and who's working on it. Hezbollah already has UAVs, after all, and the technologies we use (which range from cellphones to Lego) are hardly export-controlled.
But all that came to a head today when I read the main UAV newsgroup, and saw that Amir Aalipour, an Iranian in Tehran, had posted some pictures of his swing-wing UAV (shown), proudly bedecked with the colors of the Iranian flag. He's been following the discussion in these forums for some time and now wanted to come forward with his own impressive work.
Part of me says "Bravo Amir! Excellent work on the airframe, and thanks for posting." And part of me says "Yikes. We're helping Iranians make UAVs draped in nationalistic colors. This isn't going to help us in our efforts to destigmitize drones."
Obviously Iranian != terrorist/bad guy/anti-Israeli zealot. And needless to say, most of the terrorist/bad guy/anti-Israeli zealots out there who are building UAVs aren't posting on RC Groups. But what should I do if Amir or someone like him from a country associated with Bad Stuff posts on our own forums looking for technical advice? My instinct is to treat everyone alike and help anybody who asks, regardless of where they're from (odds are Amir is just a geek like the rest of us, no matter where he lives). But how does this look to someone in Washington? We're just a pen stroke away from being regulated out of existence, and in this climate it's politically unwise to discount the Homeland Security card (my own feelings about that notwithstanding).
I know, that's an ignorant, xenophobic and paranoid reaction. And my first instinct is to pay nationality no mind. But as I say, I'm conflicted on this. What would you do?
[UPDATE: Amir himself responds in the comments of my other blog. He's 17 years old. Which makes what he's done all the more impressive.]