Beware the Impending Drone Wars

By Rich Tehrani May 29, 2014

Picture a speeding criminal on the run who discovers a police cruiser behind him with its lights flashing. The driver rolls down the window and gently lets go of a handheld drone capable of going quite fast and firing a gun. While driving, he uses a smartphone to maneuver the camera-equipped drone next to the tire of the police cruiser where it fires a single shot, which incapacitates the vehicle.

After dealing with this incident, the police department is forced to develop a policy that entails the deployment of drones that can’t fire weapons but are capable of interfering with other drones by knocking into them. After all, few municipalities will be like the one in Montgomery County, Texas, a 500,000-population city neighboring the Houston metropolitan area, which is OK arming its drones. I predict most police departments will be concerned about lawsuits resulting from drones killing someone inadvertently.

Meanwhile, criminals will soon realize a single flying gadget won’t help them so much and will be drawn into a drone arms race, requiring each side to ramp up their drone numbers to win any encounter. Expect drone-based murders to likely take place in the dark, as these devices have night-vision and humans do not. Once criminals discover the drone is a near-perfect murder weapon, they will start to invest in these devices and subsequently pull off murders without getting caught. Gang and mob warfare will be taken to the next level as drone hits on one group will be retaliated with counter drone attacks, and we’ll potentially see drone wars in the streets between sparring groups.

In turn, police will have to counter with more drones to constantly handle surveillance from the air.

This future may seem farfetched, but it is not. It is possible to develop drones with virtually all of these capabilities today. As battery and drone technology gets better, I am 100 percent certain that virtually all of these scenarios will take place around the world.

Politicians will likely move to outlaw such devices, but society will soon realize getting a small lightweight plastic 3D printed gun onto a drone won’t be that difficult to do. In fact, you will likely be able to print out the entire device on your 3D printer. Once you add a battery, some electric motors and bullets or explosives, you're good to go.

Assuming these drones have cellular connections on them, they could beam back everything they see to their owner who could pull the trigger at the right time. Alternatively, face recognition could be used to zone in on the target. Even scarier, once a drone believes it is near its target, it could initiate a cell phone call and zone in on the ringer before delivering its payload. Suicide drones, which explode on impact, already have been used in war by the U.S. Army. Adapting them to civilian use is quite easy.

The drone threat may soon be coming to a neighborhood near you. It just came to one near me. Just 20 miles or so from TMC's Norwalk, Conn., headquarters the other day someone was arrested for trying to fly a drone with a bomb on it into a school and federal building. The implications are massive. Policing in two dimensions with metal detectors doesn't help when we live in a world with three-dimensional threats!

Nonetheless, excitement and activities around drones continue to build.

The recent NAB event in Las Vegas was awash in cameras, lenses, mounts and talk of 4K but what I found most fascinating were the hundred-plus drones on display. They also seemed to capture much of the attention from attendees at the show. Of special note was the fact that drones were being sold by companies with huge booths as well as the smallest of the small.

The point is the cost to make a drone is fairly low and reselling OEM drones is also fairly easy to do. This market will soon be highly commoditized. That, of course, ties into my ongoing concern regarding drones being used as weapons.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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Group Editor-in-Chief, TMC

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