Drones, Benefit or Hazard?


Drones; also known as unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are becoming a fact of life. They come in all sizes from the micro drone Aerius, that weighs in at only 1/4 ounce and measures about 1 inch on each side, to the much larger 47 foot long Global Hawk that weighs over 32,000 lbs fully loaded and has a wingspan of 131 feet.

Aerius Drone

Northrop Grumman Global Hawk

Most of us are familiar with the many drones that are sold for recreational flying and those proposed by companies such as Amazon for delivery of packages. There is a proposal for a drone that carries medical equipment to people in out of the way areas. These kits contain medical equipment and communications devices that allow people on scene to communicate with medical personnel and treat the injured or ill until the arrival of first responders.

Michigan State Police have been given permission to use a camera equipped drone for use to photograph crash sites, search for lost people, inspect natural disasters and conduct surveillance. The drone can survey an accident scene more quickly and completely than an investigator on the ground, which allows for faster clearing of major accident scenes.

While they can be entertaining and useful in commerce, there are others who have used their drones for more nefarious activities. There have been several reports of drone aircraft interfering with aircraft including airliners, helicopters and small aircraft, with some reported flying at 10,000 feet.

There have been complaints of camera equipped drones spying on people in their upper story rooms. In February of 2017, a Utah man and his girlfriend were arrested for spying into people’s bedrooms with their drone. They claimed they were conducting “aerial patrols”.

We are all aware of the US Military’s weaponized drones the Predator and Reaper, which have happily ruined the days of many Al Qaeda and ISIS leaders. But some home grown entrepreneurs have weaponized their own drones. 18-year-old Austin Haughwout, of Clinton Connecticut reportedly mounted a handgun on his drone and then posted video of the drone firing the weapon.

Some prisons are having a problem with drones being used to drop contraband into the prison yard. In August of 2017, 3 men were arrested while dropping contraband into the yard at Handelon Correctional in Ionia. The contraband razors, cellphones and marijuana were seized before the inmate it was intended for could retrieve it. All 3 are charged with felonies and are being held on high bonds. But there have been incidents of successful drops, one which went undiscovered for 2 months when the Corrections officers found a cellphone that had been dropped in by drone. The phone log showed it had been in use for 2 months.

Federal law currently forbids jamming the drone’s signals and disallows devices such as drones that drop nets onto other drones. Shooting down drones is also illegal.

The only people allowed at this point to use jamming and intercept methods are the US Military and other Federal agencies. Currently, the FAA is developing regulations and hopefully, defensive measures will be allowed for law enforcement and corrections, but that won’t help the average citizen who is tired of getting spied on. A Kentucky man was arrested for firing a gun in the city limits after arming himself with a shotgun and shooting down a drone that was spying on his daughter sunbathing in the back yard of his home. I sympathize with him, but I have to note that it is dangerous to fire into the air as the descending projectiles could hit and injure or kill someone.

So benefit or hazard, you decide.

Harvey Stovall
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