The drone wars: Menace or a useful tool?

Drones are among the most topical pieces of technology at the moment. Not just a figure of science fiction depicted in movies like Eye In The Sky, drones are quite real, and quite relevant.

Image: Walter Baxter

Image: Walter Baxter

Only recently a story concerning a collision with a plane near Heathrow airport hit the headlines, proving drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are now becoming high profile, and increasingly widely used. So where are all these drones coming from? They are easy to purchase online but there are some rules to follow.

Drones cannot be flown within 150 meters of a busy area and as your mother used to say when you were playing with footballs, not near people or vehicles.

Drones were originally designed for warfare but they are now becoming increasingly popular in everyday life. They are being used by the police, for documentary filming and for taking stunning aerial photography shots. However, it is impossible to know that these landscape shots are the only ones being taken by these machines and many reports of invasions of privacy have had to be addressed.

Drones are unmanned machines controlled from miles away. The aerial images taken can be relayed back to troops on the ground to design tactical pursuits. This in turn can help troops lead safer, more accurate missions. Most importantly, drones have the ability to drop bombs. The incredible technology can be used to sight a target by real time camera images or infrared sensors. By using a machine, there is no risk of life to the ‘pilot’ controlling it and so the drone can stay inflight for much longer than a normal aircraft.

Drones are also much cheaper and easier to maintain than normal military aircraft. These are great advantages for the ‘protecting’ side as the most wanted targets, be it a particular person or hideout, can be targeted when unsuspecting. However, this technology falling into the wrong hands is a very worrying possibility.

Drones have many potential applications other than warfare. A very creative example was drones used by dancers Flying Bebop, in their Britain’s Got Talent act. Last July a solar powered drone named Aquila, developed by Facebook, was tested for beaming a Wi-Fi signal into remote areas. This could provide educational resources and communication in areas that are in need. However, the drone was unsuccessful in establishing a connection and no progress has been made. A similar drone developed by Google crashed last year.

Similar to the cockroaches used in the series Orange is the New Black, just this week it has been revealed that drones have been extensively used to carry drugs, mobile phones, weapons and other contraband over prison walls to supply inmates. The versatility of these light-weight aircrafts is enormous, hence why drones have so many potential uses.

On a more optimistic note, there are drones in development by Amazon to deliver parcels under the title ‘Prime Air’. They aim to get parcels to customers within 30 minutes.

However, the rapid expansion of this technology needs to be monitored as personal drone use could cause a range of issues. As recently reported, limited air space is already a problem, and collisions could impact those on the ground and the environment. Their versatility creates concerns over the misuse of drones should they fall into criminal hands; so by whom, when and where drone use is appropriate needs to be addressed.

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