3D Robotics

3689639069?profile=originalI don't normally pass along anti-drone op-eds, but this one from the Chicago Tribune is the most extreme I've seen and interesting in how it discounts the positive uses as trivial (pizza delivery) and focuses on the weapon risks.

In the overnight hours last week, authorities in Paris spotted unmanned drones buzzing the Eiffel Tower, the Bastille, the Place de la Concorde the U.S. Embassy and other high-profile landmarks.

Why? It's still a mystery.

But whatever the reason, this swarming incident has convinced me: While there's still time — if there's still time — we must ban drones.

I don't mean restrict the areas or altitudes where they can fly. I don't mean tighten regulations on the purposes to which private citizens and law enforcement can use them. Many jurisdictions have already instituted partial crackdowns.

A drone capable of delivering a package to your door will also be capable of delivering a small bomb.- Eric Zorn

I mean ban them outright. Prohibit their ownership and use for all but the most limited law-enforcement and military purposes. I mean pass legislation and create international norms to treat these small, unmanned flying vehicles the way the law treats machine guns and chemical weapons — as devices so inherently fraught with potential peril that whatever positive uses they may have aren't worth the risks they pose.

These nimble, remotely piloted aerial machines are a significant threat to public safety, even when flown by people who mean no harm, and an obvious threat to privacy.

Drone enthusiasts wax optimistically about what a boon they are or will be to photographers, retailers, farmers, bridge inspectors and so on — how cheap and easy drones make it to do important jobs.

I fret pessimistically about what a boon they are or will be to terrorists, criminals, goofballs, snoops and so on — how expensive and difficult it will be to create security barriers against their malign use.

An anecdote: In September 2013, members of the German Pirate Party flew a quadrocopter over the crowd at a campaign rally in Dresden as a gesture of protest, and crash-landed it more or less at the feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkeland her defense minister.

The device was basically harmless, but the incident — like the incident in January, when a lost drone crashed on the White House lawn — was ominous. What if it had been weaponized? A flying IED?

A drone capable of delivering a package to your door will also be capable of delivering a small bomb. And I know this sounds alarmist, but poke around online a bit, and you'll see that police departments all over are increasingly concerned about malicious uses of drones as well as the inevitable accidents when they malfunction or wander into protected airspace.

They can fly under the radar, literally and figuratively, and require sophisticated technology to safely disable. Commercial aircraft, power plants, outdoor gatherings and even moderately fortified private homes are vulnerable to stealthy incursions from above.

Drone defenders will argue that hobbyists have flown radio-controlled model airplanes for well more than 50 years without ghastly incident, so all this fretting and legislating is unwarranted.

If only. These things are no longer glorified toys. They're getting cheaper and more sophisticated all the time, and the costs of protecting ourselves from them will rise accordingly.

And for what? So pizzas and prescriptions can one day be delivered faster? So we can enjoy more stunning aerial videos such as the tour of Chicago in winter posted to the Soaring Badger Productions YouTube site? So we can more easily keep track of our crumbling infrastructure? So farmers can monitor their crops from the comfort of their dens?

The number of uses — real and on the drawing board — is growing along with the consumer and commercial constituency for drones. Which is why we should prohibit their manufacture and sale now, before we get a heavily financed National Drone Association funding lawmakers at every level of government and trumpeting the idea that it's a right, not a privilege, to keep and fly wee helicopters.

We'll be sorry if we don't strike an international treaty banning the civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles and sharply limiting their use by law enforcement and the military.

Do I know how preposterous and reactionary this sounds? How it echoes of the vaporous panic with which history's fools have greeted nearly every technological advance from the printing press to the Internet?

Do I realize the futility of railing against the tide of progress with feverish hypotheticals?

I do. And I know there's a good chance that my yet-unborn grandchildren will one day find this column in a compendium of retrospectively amusing journalistic hysteria and have a good laugh at my expense over a drone-delivered takeout meal.

But do you realize, reader, that, whether we can stop them or not, the dangers of these devices are real and associated tragedies are inevitable? And that every once in awhile, the doomsayers have a point?
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  • In his one comment in the comment thread on the column, Mr. Zorn linked directly to a youtube video as "evidence" to support his "thesis."  That video is clearly a parody - a guy with a fake Russian accent "flying" a badly CG rendered "drone" that's just a machine gun with undersized props to "support" it, which he then flies and shoots with preposterously bad physics.  Essentially, he's citing an article in "The Onion" to support his argument.

    He's either just doing some petulant, attention-seeking trolling, or he's trying to play a "Steven Colbert" style character that exaggerates a position in order to mock that position.

    The problem with absurd trolling or playing that sort of character is always that the rubes will take it at face value...

  • Looks like another journalist afraid of losing his outdated job to a machine that can do it better and cheaper.
  • If they would just ban these evil drones, then we could Finally have our "Muriburiland". Honestly, how these people get through a day out there in Dangerland is a mystery.
  • So hot a topic on drones, many pessimistic views, banning outright is just plain ridiculous. Might as well just Ban Cars, Guns, Internet while you're at it. Let snot forget commercial airlines too. Lets look back at history how many people suffered losses from weapons, Guns for one, we civilians own them, does this mean ban it too? Cars, we drive everyday, so ban that too, reserve it for police and military use. Come on, lets be realistic here, we can regulate and monitor these devices, just because a couple of drones fly over landmarks gets you paranoid to write such an article. I'm sorry i dont share your pessimism, i've been a builder, RC flyer for 25 years, and this new flying device is just another development of our times. So i stress a complete ban on all drones, good luck with your quest. Enough said lets fly for fun, family and friendship. Thats what its all about.

  • Dear Fellow Pressure Cooker User,

    Let me throw in an anscient quote on the topic of "journalism once was about truth":

    John Swinton on journalists as intellectual prostitutes in responding to a toast for “An Independent Press” at a banquet for editors (1901): “There is no such thing, at this stage of the world’s history in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dare write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my papers, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.” [1].

    So my point of view on the change in journalism is: they are still prostitutes, but i would rather question that they are still intellectual. So many of them seem to be what George Orwell described, when he wrote:

    Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.”

    my  2 cent on todays hate mongery, fear spreading and paranoia planting in the media.

  • This is idiocy. Maybe we should ban jet airplanes too, after 9/11. Anything can be a weapon.

  • I for one just think these so called news articles are great. News must of been a little slow this particular day or the guy was suffering the change of life or something like that. There is no evidence to indicate this has an once of truth about terrorism.  Privacy is one issue that may have some merit if the article approached that particular issue in the right way.  Otherwise the journalist lacks credibility,of which this particular article has zip.  If the journalist really was wanting to ascend the soap box perhaps guns or motor vehicle deaths in the US would be of more news worthy as I believe they kill more people in the US than any terrorist exercise.  In 2012 there were just over 35,500 deaths to motor vehicles and over 30,000 by guns.  There were 25 US non-combatant fatalities from terrorism world wide in 2010 and in 2011 there was 8 with 29 deaths accounted for being struck by lightning.  Just another example of selling news as a product and not a balanced 'news' article as it was if it was written back when news was news. 

  • Seriously they only want to ban drones because of terrorism because it shows just how few terrorists there are in the west, and how blown up out of all proportion the hype is on this matter. After spending hundres of billions, one has to wonder why no terrorist has *ever* done anything with a drone especially when theres nothing to stop them. The answer is of course quite simple, there are almost no terrorists and the entire exercise is a complete waste of time and money.

  • The real cause of all these problems, is electricity & petrol. Without either all terrorists can do is throw rocks.

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