Clegg: Drone madness

BY CHRIS CLEGG | MAY 12, 2015 5:00 AM

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On Jan. 26, a man flew a drone, undetected, onto the White House lawn, where he lost control of the device. What if that quadrocopter would have been packed with lethal missiles? If a pilot who reportedly “had a few drinks” can infiltrate the residence of our highest-ranking political official with a drone, who else might be able to breach White House security?

Additionally, on April 27, the Guardian released a chilling column highlighting the details of a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan that accidentally took the lives of two Westerners being held hostage there, creating a media frenzy about the sloppy rules regulating drone warfare.

These stories, combined with others such as the 2012 report released by Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law on U.S. drone use in Pakistan, seem to paint the picture of drones as ruthless killing machines. However, what is often lost in the travesties of drone warfare is that these machines are being willed to do their bidding by people.

While drones do fly by themselves (sort of), they don’t have minds of their own that are leading them to blow up suspected terrorists; that order has to come from an individual. Nonetheless, drones have become so scary, militarily speaking, that people often lose sight of the beneficial, non-militaristic, applications of the aircrafts.

Take weather analysis, for example. As National Geographic reported in 2013, “NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Northrop Grumman teamed up on a three-year, $30 million experiment to use [drones] to spy on storms as they evolve.” This is particularly useful for two reasons. One, it puts storm-chasers out of harm’s way and reserves their talents for more beneficial purposes such as analyzing storm data instead of collecting it. And two, unmanned aircraft can risk getting closer to, say, the eye of a hurricane, or they can directly analyze the formation of a funnel cloud by being inserted directly into it, something that would never be possible (due to the value on human life) by a plane carrying a pilot.

Speaking of the environment, why not apply drone technology in the capacity of endangered-species surveillance? Much like how a helicopter can see more than a video camera, a drone has the potential to see much more than a pair of human eyes ever could. Combine this ability in areas where poaching is commonplace, and we have the ability to better detect the dangers that poaching poses and preserve a multitude of ecosystems from human-accelerated destruction.

Beyond analysis and protection, these machines can actually be used in the private sector as well thanks to a 2012 federal law allowing the fusion of drone technology for commercial purposes. This is particularly beneficial to your average real-estate agent. Now, instead of pitching a piece of property on the premise of still pictures and blueprints, one has the ability to not only offer virtual tours of the property but of the surrounding neighborhood(s) in general. Furthermore, this application shows the consumer the current condition of a property and its surroundings, something that can often be misconstrued through pictures and descriptions by a person trying to sell the property.

While drone use has often (maybe even rightfully so) been stigmatized through our military’s violent application of the technology, it is important to remember the scope in which we can use these new developments. The only way this stigma will change, however, is if we start embracing drones as tools instead of weapons.

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