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Attack of the Drones

— Filed under: People & Culture, Science & Technology

If you thought the TSA's new "naked scanners" and enhanced pat-downs were invasive and obnoxious, you haven't seen anything yet. Cue The Ride of the Valkyries and pan to the horizon: here comes the attack of the personal drones.

The age of personal robots has long been predicted, and it appears that with respect to personal drones, that age is already upon us. The biggest and most publicized entry into the market has been the Parrot AR.Drone, a "quadricopter" with an onboard video camera sending a real-time feed to your iPhone (which also acts as the controller). Marketed as a video game and with a price tag of just $300, the applications are really endless. Let the flying and spying begin.

Pteryx UAV tilt camera head
Pteryx UAV

Another option is the Pteryx UAV, fully autonomous and more like a traditional plane than the AR.Drone. Billed as a photomapping tool, there are certainly many other possible uses. Amateur paparazzi rejoice!

What happens when historically unobtainable high technology like this becomes inexpensive and easily accessible by the average person? Is there any hope at all for the already terminally ill notion of "privacy"? At some point in the future, these personal drones could be outfitted with cameras that can see around corners. They may have onboard computers that can recognize faces and expressions, and act autonomously based on that information.

And that, to many, is the most ominous aspect: that some of these drones act of their own accord and make their own decisions.  As Hewy pointed out in a recent column, the militaries of the world are moving at lightspeed to equip their autonomous drones and robots with the latest weaponry. Closer to home, when your neighborhood nutjob mounts a weapon onto his personal drone — it's only a matter of time, really — and sends it out to do whatever it wants, what kind of a body count will you read about in the headlines? Sadly, it seems inevitable that something terrible will have to happen before preventative measures are taken.

Hap's picture

Comparing a consumer

Comparing a consumer electronic 'toy' to the lunacy of the TSA's scanners is bit of a long shot sir, try again!

Ethan's picture

Power to the People

I say power to the people, I'm going to buy one of those copters. Any remote control helicopter or airplane could be modified though and banning them on the notion that someone could use them for evil is way over the top.
On the same line of thinking you would have to ban GPS devices and model rockets.

Winston Smith's picture

How so? This 'toy' can be

How so? This 'toy' can be used to infringe upon other's privacy (videotaping through your second-floor bedroom window, taking pictures of your sunbathing). To me, that seems even more sinister than the TSA's scanners.  Please explain yourself further.

Anonymous's picture

Privacy in the age of the

Privacy in the age of the information superhighway, personal phone, Facebook, online purchasing is simply niave, and the reality is that the majority of us are really protected merely by chance and obscurity.

There are two undenyable rights, freedom for safety, and anyone who chooses to take away one for the sake of preserving the other deserves neither.

paraphrase, some famous guy... i'm glad i don't live in your country.

it is important here to note things like, in some flatland farming state/countries these things used by ameteurs and partial illeagaly, but harmlessly none the less to improve their awareness of the state of their livestock, these things will be used to conduct search and rescue in the near future.

and if you're ammerican, what about the 2nd ammendment?

Anonymous's picture

much like the sattelites do

much like the sattelites do already

Arn&Barn's picture

Build one yourself for 200

Anonymous's picture

You Sir Are a Moron

Of all the ignorant articles about amateur UAVs, this takes the cake. A classic case of zero research and knee-jerk fear.

Anonymous's picture

exactly, you took the words

exactly, you took the words out of my mouth, if you did a little research on the web you would find that the fpv community is one of the most safety conscious groups out there. Good riddance of journalists like this one I say.

Winston Smith's picture

... and if you read the

... and if you read the article carefully, you see that it's not about the FPV community or amateur UAV hobbyists. The author has already explained that here:

R. Wilson's picture

Ignorance and stupidity

The ignorance of this article is only surpassed by the stupidity of it. Your research into almost any aspect of the article would have led you to an entirely different notion and steered you from this headline to grab ratings for shock and awe. Amateur modeling has been about for decades with no ill fated outting of explosive ninja equipped death gliders. Models whether they are autonomous or not are subject to a vast array of rules and anyone breaking them in any country gets consequences from governing bodies as well as fellow modelers. Stupidity causes problems so stop spreading it.

Only simple modelers enjoying an hour or two on a nice day with something they have crafted moving gracefully through the air. The preassembled models (AR.drone, AirHogs etc) are for those not confident in their ability and allow them to take a tentative step into a field of delicacy and knowledge.

Amateur robotics has always strived to produce something to help its fellow man. The first powered flight was NOT the Wright brothers, it was done by a man in Somerset, England flying a 6ft model plane with no controls. Fair enough the Wright brothers did a big version that could actually steer but without the man from his shed building a laughable contraption the Wright brothers wouldn't have even started. From small beginnings comes the greatest innovations of tomorrow. Do you consider the line following robots that most schools build a hazard? No, well they have the same rules and restrictions as all the rest. The amateur drone market may be getting bigger, with more people but these people are pushing the boundaries for us all.

Remember the future is what we make of it. If you spread stupidity, ignorance and paranoia then when you get increased security measures, restrictions on your actions, curfews, etc just remember its your fault for creating it. Idiot

TG's picture

UAV's are nothing new, in

UAV's are nothing new, in fact the public has had the ability to do this for years, if they had enough cash. As with everything else prices dropped and suddenly NOW some dude with a blog is spreading fear over something he does not understand. I am sorry but not everyone can just make one, there does take some skill and technical knowledge to build one, even with premade plane kits, the electronic units let alone programming the thing. Average joe blow from nowhereville USA most likely won't be making one and I am pretty sure that there won't be swarms of them crawling across the sky. They are no more dangerous than actual manned RC planes, video feeds from RC aircraft have been around for quite some time. Putting ANY kind of weaponry on an RC plane, even using the plane itself as a weapon is highly illegal and quite frankly nobody does that, at least nobody that actually uses the aircraft for what it is intended for. HOBBY. And SPYING?? I am sorry but unless you are in the remote parts of the world, there is someone or something always recording you and your actions and even then satellites far up in space are able to see those areas. Scared about someone spying on you while in your home? Well it is no different than someone with a telescope. You are far less secure in your own home than you think. Anybody could just walk up to your window and take a peek, unless you have curtains in which case nobody can look through anyway so how is a UAV going to?

So unless you dig a hole in the ground, never speak to anyone ever again, cut off your assets, cut off electricity, phone and internet services then there is something, somewhere KNOWING where you are and what you do. This is the digital age and if you think UAV's are a huge problem to personal security then you better think again before you fill out an application for a job because your Social Security number is available to the world in a database. Honestly you are in a far worse danger of identity theft messing up your world than some hobbyist with a UAV.

Do research before you spread fear over something you don't understand.

Anonymous's picture

Get real.

I suppose you are paranoid of binoculars, telescopes and cameras with zoom lenses too.

Keep your blinds closed, put on clothes when you leave your house and stop doing the illegal things you are afraid of getting caught doing.

TG's picture

Look at this authors other posts.

Go ahead... His other posts are just as bad as this one. Although I'm very happy that at least someone in the world thinks us programmers are good enough to get machines to make their own decisions and think for themselves. Maybe he should look closer than his neighborhood for the nutjob. 

Anonymous's picture


Notice the sentence above the comment form?

"Inappropriate comments will be removed by the community."

Shame the same can't be said about Inappropriate articles.

There's definitely no intelligence to this article. Standard Tin-foil hat the world is falling down. Why are you on the internet if you are so afraid of technology?

Kuncen's picture

Thank you

I'd like to say thank you to all of the commenters above. This article has generated debate and discussion, which is exactly the goal of the site.

However, most of these intelligent and well-written comments are unfortunately obscured by personal insults and name-calling, which is kind of sad. They were good comments, unnecessarily marred by negativity at the end. If you're confident in your argument, then insulting people really isn't necessary, and it certainly doesn't win anyone to your point of view.

I have noticed that many of the commenters appear surprisingly angry and defensive, as though I had personally attacked their families. This leads me to believe that they are probably amateur UAV hobbyists defending something they enjoy.  Which is understandable.  But this article was not about amateur hobbyists.  This article was about fully-assembled and ready-to-fly UAVs being marketed to the uninitiated and inexperienced.  Many of these new customers will not know anything about the laws, and may not care.  And despite the sense of responsibility that the hobbyists might have, these new customers may decide to use their new UAVs for inappropriate purposes.  And that's really all the article was about — that the potential for misuse exists.  It was not a call for banning them, and it was not a call for stronger regulation.  It was just asking the questions, which, in my opinion, need to be asked.

Again, thanks for your comments, and please do share your insights, but please keep it civil.


Anonymous's picture

have you read the rules

have you read the rules already in place ?? Have you read the proposed rules ?? if i am a nutjob i would,nt so probly be best to stop giving terrorist idea,s

Anonymous's picture

I am not sure what your point

I am not sure what your point was. Do you think an average Joe could fly one of these things let alone turn it into a weapon or effective spy device?  Most of those who get one of these without any background or help will do little more than smash them to bits in a few minutes.

As for spying on you, worry about all the cams the Govt has on you already. Also a "nut job" is more likely to rape you or slit your throat with a kitchen knife than anything else. Wackos rarely go HiTech, guns aren't even common with crazies, it is friends, lovers and relatives that are usually the ones shooting each other. Read up, all the stats are available. While you are worried about "drones" your ex is planning to shoot you, the Govt is reading your email and watching everything you do, and the village psycho knows where you hide the spare key.

Get your risks prioritized if you want to keep safe.

Ethan F.'s picture

Spreading this kind of

Spreading this kind of ignorant fear is what causes the increased security measures such as the TSA's body scanners and pat-downs. Kind of ironic you start off with that line. Fear is caused by ignorance--simple as that. Instead of adding to the fear, why not write a more useful blog and educate those that are ignorant on the subject? Do something good for humanity and stop being a ninny.

Anonymous's picture

these things are less

these things are less dangerous than a soccer mom that stopped taking her Zoloft !! the goverment can already look in you house thru closed blinds !

Diego Colonnello's picture


Kuncen, i think you should be carefull . maybe at this moment at least 10 drones are pointing at you with deadly paintball bullets.... jajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajaja and the best part of it is that wit will be shown on live internet feed (also iphones) jejejejejejejejejejejejeje

Anonymous's picture

I think the personal nutjob

I think the personal nutjob down the street could drive his car through someone's house doing more damage than a UAV could do. I hope your next blog post talks about that and regulating cars so people can't have access to them.

Next, we'll move on to denial of service attacks on websites. We should regulate the internet so no same person has access to the internet to keep all the bad people from attacking websites. I'll look for that in a future blog post as well.

I LOVE it when people try to scare others with misinformed information.

Kuncen's picture

I'll leave this thread open

I'll leave this thread open in the hopes that someone will post a rational and calm response.  However, if the insulting language continues, I'll be forced to close it, which would be sad, but that kind of diatribe is not contributing to intelligent discourse and debate.

If anyone would like to post a full rebuttal, or perhaps an article with a different take on privacy, they are more than welcome. If it's well-written, and not hateful, I'd be glad to post it to the front page of for all to read. Simply create an account, click the link in the activation email, and then submit the article.

**EDIT** The next comment posted was solely a personal insult, without anything else, so I've deleted it and closed the thread to further comments. Quite a shame that a real discussion couldn't be had.