The Drones Are Coming

Jul 06, 2013

While we’re on the subject, lets not forget the drones, who have been grabbing media and other attention recently, and grabbed mine espe- cially thrice last week – inspiring me to write this article.
So, first of all, what are drones? They are, very basically, unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV’s – artificial, man-made flying objects with no humans inside – either remote controlled, or, artificially intelligent. Browsing the web a few days back, I came across an advertisement, on Snapdeals, for a drone with surveillance cameras, microphones, and capability to transport light objects. And herein we come to the main use of our drones – surveillance and reconnaissance. These, little or large, objects can be flown in anywhere, watch anything, and record everything– Drones are being used today for both for protection and attack – in Kaziranga Wild life national park ,drones are being used to provide surveillance do the 430 km square reverse to prevent the poaching of the one horned rhinoceros .Another example is the massive Narendra Modi political rally earlier this week in Ahmedabad, where the Gujarat Police used a couple of remote controlled UAVs circling high above to keep a watch on the crowd, the first ever use of drones in India in this way for ordinary security.
Coming to the other use of drones made most use of by the United States government -: Military. As the war on terror expanded, the US began using armed drones – devices that were previously restricted to only surveillance and re- connaissance – for precision strikes against terrorist bases in warzones of Afghanistan and Iraq. Soon such strikes became prevalent in non-warzones like Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, where they are continuing till date to assassinate terrorists. While these may be defended on grounds like national security, the fact remains that using a remote controlled aircraft to kill people has been condemned by the UN and human rights organizations over the globe.
Another borderline use of surveillance capacities of drones I came across just this week was in inves- tigative journalism, where drones are used by journalists to find out what’s going on in secret govern- ment sites, where they are denied access. This can tell us what our government is hiding from us, while also compromising one of its operations – the classic dilemma of journalism. So basically, such uses have arisen from the fact that we have a truly expendable (it can be destroyed without loss of life) asset in the sky – allowing one to go anywhere.
Now, a fast rising and interesting use that I have largely ignored so far is light transport, i.e., Domino’s. Yes, I am not even kidding, Domi- no’s have for some time been test- ing the use of drones in pizza delivery, and made news last month in the UK, as they made their first pizza delivery using the remote controlled Domi-Copter – forget about the 30 minutes, this is going to deliver in no time. But its not just them, in Philadelphia, drying cleaning company Manayuk Cleaners is similarly using drones to deliver laundry to its customers – I mean whatever else, the drones are certainly coming.
And my third and final instance, perhaps the most important, certainly the most newsworthy, is the autonomous landing of the X-47B Unmanned Aerial Vehicle on the deck of a US aircraft carrier. I remember saying, that the militarily used drones were remote controlled, a cause for concern – well I think we have crossed that stage now, as the new X-47 drone, built by fighter aircraft builders Northrop Grumman, is flying itself, and what’s more, landing itself on air- craft carriers – unheard of ever in the history of UAVs. Although it has not been cleared for military use yet, the fact that it is built by a fighter aircraft company and is operating on navy ships points to the high possibility that it will be militarily operational – scary – artificially intelligent, fully armed military aircraft with the capability from taking off from a ship anywhere in the world – that’s the first step to Skynet, isn’t it?
Anyway, throwing aside any dark assertions or happy uses, the fact remains that the drones are coming, whether to give you pizzas or rain death from above, they are coming, large aircraft or tiny insect sized things, they are coming – one of the best and most real reflections of the rise of the machines.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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References: Scientific American, IBN Live, Geek, Daily News, Livemint

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