War games

Written by: Tim Fryer | Published:
First, drones are NOT a toy. Drones have already been used to ship drugs across the Mexico/US ...

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I do not yet own a drone although I suspect it is only a matter of time. Their controllability even in basic models far outstrips that of toy/model helicopters and the addition of reasonable resolution cameras on a stable platform further adds to their appeal. They are the ultimate geek toy.

Progress at the top end of the market has also evolved, in this magazine we covered the development of the 'Flying Wing' in the February issue and we will have one of the latest products on the market on show at the Engineering Design Show in October. Such products will probably revolutionise surveillance and remote monitoring applications in the near future. Will they also be delivering Amazon packages to your doorstep? I doubt it. But the fact that it is being considered for such applications highlights that heavy duty drones can carry a considerable payload. Indeed there is no difference, except in name, between drones and the original name of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – devices that the military use in some cases to carry missiles.

Recently an Airbus A320 coming into Heathrow flew under a drone, missing it by just 3m. Presumably this particular case was no more than the same level of stupidity that drives teenage boys to shine laser pointers at aircraft pilots, but it is no less the dangerous for all that. And this level of access to potentially dangerous technology is a concern. There are rules, rather than legislation, that guide the use of drones and you only need a CAA 'permission' if you are using them commercially. There are no initial obstacles to purchase or even to make such devices though - there are websites dedicated to DIY drone building. So in a society that feels at risk from an unknown enemy from within, should sale of devices be regulated? The mentality of a suicide bomber is not going to be too concerned with following a code of practice that doesn't allow drones to be flown above 400ft, above crowds or in the flightpath coming into an airport. 9/11 turned the commercial aircraft into a weapon – we wouldn't want that to happen to a toy.

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First, drones are NOT a toy. Drones have already been used to ship drugs across the Mexico/US border, and into a UK jail. Drones with cameras can violate privacy. Boeing appears to be looking at drones with electronics to hack into enemy computers.
Second, regulating sales of drones will not help. Unlike guns, which are heavily regulated in the UK but still easily get into the hands of criminals, drones are mostly seen as harmless fun, and can be made anywhere all over the world, and can be shipped without easy detection, unlike gun barrels. You might compare CB radio, where American sets were fairly widespread, until European VHF sets were standardised - there are huge numbers of those around, not exactly regulated, not directly harmful, potentially useful to criminals.
To control drones will be seriously difficult I think, unless there is some kind of international agreement, to have a unique code-word in the radio transmission, so that controllers and drones can be positively identified. And even that might be too easy to hack.

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