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Moser: Drone Aircraft an Aerodynamic Smart Phone

Did you see this video of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV or better known as drone) being knocked out of the sky by group of rowdy hockey fans who were celebrating the LA Kings taking home the Stanley Cup?

The video disturbed me on a number of levels. First, in the description, the words “rowdy” and “celebration” are used. I think that language diminished the impact of the crime. It sounds like a bunch of children were misbehaving instead of destroying an expensive piece of police equipment.

Then, I am perturbed by the number of people who condemn all UAV as an invasion of privacy.  I’m not a fan of anyone infringing on my privacy, but I absolutely am willing to forego my sensitivity for the safety of all at a much reduced price. I know a bargain when I see one!

These unmanned aircraft are here and they are really just the aerodynamic version of smart phones. Everywhere we go, people are taking our pictures, recording video, sharing map coordinates.

I’ve heard many bitter complaints that police don’t patrol our neighborhoods and help prevent crime. Well, we apparently can’t afford for police to patrol our neighborhoods. We don’t want to pay higher taxes to pay salary and benefits and purchase additional patrol cars with the maintenance and depreciation associated. (Obviously, we CAN put a price on safety!)

A police helicopter runs anywhere from $500,000 to $3 million. I couldn’t locate any solid figures for the price of a police UAV, but It is going to be much cheaper to operate a drone that can cover many miles quickly than officers in a patrol cars or helicopters.

Because Congress authorized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open the nation’s airspace to widespread drone flights by 2015, estimates are there will be 7,000 civilian drones in the skies by 2020.

We’ll be seeing package delivery and pizza delivery. We’ll be getting better traffic reports. We’ll be getting better photos than your cell phones!

I’m not too concerned about privacy, but I am concerned we are adding more and more people to the world and that robotic engineering is removing more and more people from the workforce. Building UAV creates jobs, but if one drone can replace ten patrol officers, one robot can replace ten restaurant employees, one assembly line robot can replace ten auto plant employees there’s going to be a lot of idle folks out here.

Here’s my favorite research article for this column. It shows many different insect and nano drones.

If you’d like to view a discussion of the ethics and legalities on a local level, the PW Committee of 100 held a great forum on the topic in May and you can view that here.

I love technology. I’m not afraid of losing my privacy because I think it’s much too late to be having that conversation, but there is a lot going on that we mere mortals are not considering. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to let me know what you think.

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  • William Golden

    … and then there are the 400 drone crashes over the last year, some in neighborhoods, as reported by the Washington Post this last week — and those are the expensive, highly controlled drones (UAV/UAS); see

    However, drones are here to stay. They will become more abundant and they will become more intrusive. They will also do much good.

    As in all things: will we be able to hold someone responsible for their misuse or unintended use? If so then no problem.

  • Al Alborn

    Drones are another math problem.

    I’m not sure about the value proposition. While hobby drones can be had for a few hundred dollars, duty drones can cost $10-12 Million each. They cost around $2500-3500 per flight hour, require operators (plural), a maintenance team, admin, etc. That buys a lot of cops on the street.

    I would suggest that while drones may be here to stay, cops are a better investment. I would suspect there may be a drone in some police department’s future for special circumstances, sort of like a police helicopter.

    Of course, not many police departments can afford a helicopter.

    And then there’s the safety issue. Washington Post has published a two part documentary about drone crashes (which are rather frequent statistically).

    As for privacy, the Virginia legislature is concerned. They have placed a moratorium on drones until July 1, 2015 to sort out the privacy and safety issues.

    They may be here to stay; however, there’s a lot of cost and public policy issues that need to go to work before they are widely deployed.

    My vote. Invest in cops. The price of one drone puts a lot of uniforms on the street.

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