November 08, 2010
Personal Flying Drones

When you walk out of the house out of reach of your home guard robots you won't have to leave behind the advantages of machine companions. A Wall Street Journal article reports several of the efforts to create miniature flying drones (cheaper unmanned aerial vehicles for individual use) will reach project completion in 2011.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, professor and former Navy fighter pilot Missy Cummings is working with her students to build a "Personal Sentry" drone. Under a military contract with Boeing Corp., her goal is to develop a drone the size of a pizza box with small propellers that can watch a soldier's back on the battlefield. When a drone sees approaching danger, it will buzz a warning to a soldier's cellphone.

But the real prize may be in civilian applications. "The military stuff is kind of passe," Ms. Cummings said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist from MIT to tell you if we can do it for a soldier in the field, we can do it for anybody."

After the military the earlier adopters are expected to include celebrity-stalking paparazzi photographers.

Where I see this going: The total surveillance society where individuals do as much surveilling as corporations and governments. Declining costs of computers and other things small means surveillance for the masses.

Surveillance robots, whether on the ground or in the air, can serve a lot of useful purposes. MIT's Missy Cummings sees parents using small flying drones accompanying children as they walk to school. People walking thru dangerous neighborhoods might feel safer with a guard drone overhead that a cell phone could signal to report a video feed when someone pulls a gun or knife. Or the drone could scan for other humans at night (using IR) to identify which streets look more or less dangerous to walk down. A drone could also be controllable to direct a very bright light at an approaching assailant.

The ability of surveillance drones to record high-res images could be combined with a wireless link to a criminal face matching computer server. So convicted rapists and muggers could be identified. Crowd sourcing becomes a real possibility. Many different personally owned drones could (along with cameras mounted in cars and outside of stores and houses) all pass info to servers that could then track the movement of known dangerous people (why they are out on the street is another subject). Also, after a crime is committed as soon as, say, a victim of rape or robbery reports the crime all recent drone feed logs in the vicinity could be scoured to identify possible suspects and start tracking them. Neighborhood watches could signal people to all send out their drones to do a massive sweep of the area.

I can imagine flying drones being sent off to a drug store to land on the roof to be loaded with a drug prescription or other light item. The energy costs would probably be lower than the energy costs of driving a car to the store. Wouldn't work for a large grocery load. But would work for trips to get smaller items.

A bigger flying drone operated by, say, Starbucks or 7/11 could deliver coffee to a number of houses on a route. Or how about drones that deliver newspapers? A delivery truck could drive along with a flat bed where the drones lift off and deliver newspapers down side streets. Reduced labor costs, faster delivery.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 November 08 07:45 PM  Surveillance Robots

PacRim Jim said at November 8, 2010 7:59 PM:

Lasers blind drones, easily.

Randall Parker said at November 8, 2010 9:06 PM:

PacRim Jim,

If a drone can sense a laser then it can phone the police to report a laser attack. It can also report the images it saw right up to the moment of attack. It can also call for help from other drones.

Criminals face a problem: The overwhelming majority of people aren't criminals and people can deploy large numbers of drones.

ribock said at November 9, 2010 4:21 AM:

Surely flocks of drones mean collisions, injuries to people on the ground.

john personna said at November 9, 2010 5:25 AM:

What you want is a garden robot, that crawls around assassinating snails and tomato bugs, and then calls the police when someone breaks and enters.

Lono said at November 9, 2010 7:08 AM:

I know I should be concerned about these developments - but the truth is I am nosy as all get out!

Personal Drones FTW!!!


Jim Walker said at November 9, 2010 9:32 AM:

You can buy these now via ebay.
Not really a big deal. Problem at the moment is the things are stupid loud but can hover, be guided by your iPhone, pick stuff up, etc.
You have an extra $1k, you can have your own personal flying drone by end of week (earplugs not included).

philw1776 said at November 9, 2010 4:44 PM:

All Your Skies R Us

A.K. said at November 10, 2010 7:03 AM:

I do not want to live in a society where this kind of thing is the norm. Major privacyfail.

Phillep Harding said at November 10, 2010 11:34 AM:

Stalking, peeking at sun bathers and skinny dippers in their own back yard, looking through windows, watching for the police, poaching, running drugs...

Brett Bellmore said at November 11, 2010 8:27 AM:

"Or how about drones that deliver newspapers?"

How about power assisted buggy whips, while we're at it? Though I'm sure the concept might work for Fedex; Assuming the drones had enough speed, the truck wouldn't have to stop for deliveries.

Nick G said at November 12, 2010 3:48 PM:

These scare me. Has no one thought this through? What about the impact on guerrilla warfare, aka asymmetrical warfare?

At least now someone has to kill themselves to deliver an explosive to a target. What happens when all you need is a cheap personal drone that can carry a modest payload, and a remote control??

I've been watching UAVs and robots with increasing dread - a massive centralized military like that of the US will benefit modestly, but guerrilla fighters will consider this a godsend. Further, what about domestic attacks? How long before it's impossible for a President of the US to venture outside a hardened bunker, because of the threat of small UAVs like this??

anonyq said at November 14, 2010 6:22 AM:

"After the military the earlier adopters are expected to include celebrity-stalking paparazzi photographers."

Which will make them illegal

Suburbanbanshee said at November 15, 2010 6:21 AM:

Why wouldn't vandals go around netting drones? If you catch one that has drugs, all the better.

Rwolf said at June 9, 2012 11:19 AM:

Next: Police Drones—Recording Conversations In Your Home & Business To Forfeit Property?

Police are salivating at the prospect of having drones to spy on lawful citizens. Congress approved 30,000 drones in U.S. Skies. That amounts to 600 drones for every state.

It is problematic local police will want to use drones to record without warrants, personal conversations inside Americans’ homes and businesses: Consider the House just passed CISPA the recent Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. If passed by the Senate, CISPA will allow—the military and NSA spy agency (warrant-less spying) on Americans’ private Internet electronic Communications using so-called (Government certified self-protected cyber entities) and Elements that may share with NSA your private Internet activity, e.g. emails, faxes, phone calls and confidential transmitted files they believe (might) relate to a cyber threat or crime (circumventing the Fourth Amendment) with full immunity from lawsuits if done in good faith. CISPA does not clearly define what is an Element; or Self-protected Cyber Entity—that could broadly mean anything, e.g. a private computer, local or national network, website, an online service.

Despite some U.S. cities and counties banning or restricting police using drones to invade citizens’ privacy, local police have a strong financial incentive to call in Federal Drones, (Civil Asset Forfeiture Sharing) that can result from drone surveillance). Should (no-warrant drone surveillance evidence) be allowed in courts—circumventing the Fourth Amendment, for example (drones’ recording conversations in private homes and businesses) expect federal and local police civil asset property forfeitures to escalate. Civil asset forfeiture requires only a preponderance of civil evidence for federal government to forfeit property, little more than hearsay: any conversation picked up by a drone inside a home or business, police can take out of context to initiate arrests; or civil asset forfeiture to confiscate a home/business and other assets. Local police now circumvent state laws that require someone be convicted before police can civilly forfeit their property—by turning their investigation over to a Federal Government Agency that can rebate to the referring local police department 80% of assets forfeited. Federal Government is not required to charge anyone with a crime to forfeit property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to government asset forfeiture that have nothing to do with illegal drugs.

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