Drones are something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. But what are they, why have they become so popular and why are they becoming so controversial?
Well, for those that didn’t know, Drones are simply unmanned aircraft, controlled by either a computer, remotely by a person on the ground or a combination of both.
A few years ago the term drone was most commonly associated with military airstrikes. They are a controversial military weapon that has been accused of resulting in the deaths of many civilians. But with unmanned aircraft technology increasingly creeping into the public domain, we’ve seen a huge surge of civilian drones like the quadcopter available to almost anybody.
Why is the public using drones?
There are a number of different ways the public have been capitalising on the use of unmanned aircraft. Drones can be used for photography, film-making, journalism and even personal surveillance.
Since many drones have the ability to capture and transmit live video, they offer the user the chance to see things they normally couldn’t from a viewpoint that would be difficult to achieve with anything else. People have even used them at live music concerts, and many are simply used recreationally.
What are the problems?
The rise in popularity of drones in the public sphere is causing a lot of problems and potential issues. So much so that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the USA announced new rules that will mean nearly all drone operators – even recreational users – will need to register in a national database.
So what are some of the potential issues?
Unmanned and often very small aircraft capable of capturing photos and videos wherever they go and transmitting them back to the operator are obviously going to have some privacy concerns. It lets people see places they normally couldn’t access, like “what’s over that high wall?” The problem is that what is behind that high wall might belong to someone else, and that high wall might be high for a reason.
For most countries, the privacy laws concerning the space above your home is murky. Many moons ago British Common law dictated you owned everything below and above your house, to the heavens and hell, or ad coelum et ad inferos. Of course with modern aviation and other realities we face today, that isn’t really applicable any more. And whilst you own the space above your house that you can ‘enjoy’ (and by that we generally mean more-or-less reach) there is no definitive or specified altitude where you no longer own the airspace above your house. No matter where you live.
Drones are pushing this ambiguity into the spotlight and causing plenty of problems in the process. After all, no one wants a surveillance drone hovering above their garden, capable of peering into their windows etc.
Security is naturally another potential problem. In 2015 a man caused a security lockdown at the White House after flying a drone past the perimeter security fence.
But it’s not just the President’s security at risk. Many drones can be equipped with spying equipment or worse, weapons. Meaning these relatively cheap, often recreational gadgets can be militarized with a little know-how and flew almost anywhere, even places where they’re not supposed to go.
Espionage and terrorism are the resulting worries for national security agencies that have to find a way to deal with an increasing number of drones in the public sphere whilst making sure that none of them are up to no good.
Another problem with having an increased number of drones in the air is inevitably going to be safety. This extends further than ust the possibility of drones falling from the sky or being operating incorrectly resulting in them coming into collision with innocent public bystanders.
It also encompasses the potential dangers of collisions with planes and other aircraft. With many near collisions between planes and drones already having occurred, many assert that with a rising number of drones in the air, it is just a waiting game before a serious collision occurs.