Unmanned air vehicles overseas enable 24/7 ground surveillance and air-to-ground combat. Now drones are coming to your neighborhood.
As a warfare technology, UAVs have been copied by the Chinese and other governments. Domestically, an increasing number of drones are patrolling the skies over the US. This has led to an all-out design and manufacturing push.
President Obama asked Congress and the FAA last year to approve the passing of legislation that will make the air above the United States open for all manner of drone aircraft.
These drones flying at a maximum ceiling of 400 feet will have sophisticated cameras with audio, video, and infrared capabilities that can pick up images and heat signatures for search-and-rescue, crime, and terrorist interdiction. A drone as small as a hummingbird can carry sensors that are capable of monitoring ground events, like your backyard BBQ.
Let's consider the less obvious equipment that may come equipped on Hummingbird v2.0. Virtually any wireless subsystem transmitting data from a vast variety of sensing devices will be able, not only to read ground events, but also to monitor small changes in the ambience in real-time. Sensor networks transmitting to ground receivers will be able to sweep an area for temperature, movement, sound, light, radiation, stress, vibration, smoke, gasses, impurities, and biological and chemical agents.
Now who wouldn't want to be assured that the air above their house is safe to breathe? This is just one of the arguments we will be hearing in support of mass drone deployments in the US.
According to a recent Washington Post article, the FAA has issued hundreds of certificates to police, government agencies, and a handful of research institutions to allow them to fly drones with various capabilities over the United States for particular missions.
The agency said it issued 313 certificates in 2011, and 295 of them were still active at the end of the year. The FAA refuses to disclose which agencies have the certificates and what their purposes are.
How many certificates for domestic drones does the US have today? We don't know. The Los Angeles Times and the Government Accountability Office reported that the FAA has issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since January 2007.
Spies in the skies
The LA Times article states the FAA's projected number of drones that would be above us by 2020 may be as high as 30,000. So if we do the math and say there are 50 states in the US, we surmise 600 drones per state. Using the estimate of 30,000 incorporated cities, it would appear that the government does indeed plan to have at least one state-sponsored drone flying over your home town.
Now let's be realistic. No industry is going to thrive on just 30,000 of anything unless they are supercomputer or satellite manufacturers. So, be on the look-out for a massive proliferation of large and small airborne robots whose whole reason for existence is looking after your security, whatever that word means anymore.
I'm not a criminal or even a person of interest, but with the number of street-level cameras on the rise, listening devices for cellphone and land-line conversations, and now drones flying over my backyard, I think my security is being threatened by feelings of insecurity.
I don't trust the people behind the cameras and joysticks to not abuse their power. At the very least, if I were a skinny dipper, I would take my last dip in the pool very soon. When this technology gets in the hands of really nasty, “ordinary citizen”-type people, it will be time to close your accounts on social networks and get some cosmetically altering surgery done by an unlisted plastic surgeon.