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Rise of the Drones

NASA

NASA

There’s been a lot of talk about drones lately and it comes right at a time when I want to buy one. Much of the chatter is about the use of drones as weapons or police surveillance tools rather than which drone is the right drone for me.

The arguments surrounding drone use by the military and law enforcement won’t be going away anytime soon. Are they yet another tool for big brother? Personally my view is drones are the same as any tool: it will be as good or bad as the person, government, or agency using it. It’s a camera on a robot. I’m a fan of both so my use will be for pleasure.

Once I knew I wanted one I found out how hard it can be to pick the perfect drone. There are literally dozens of drones for personal use. Gradually I’ve narrowed down the search for my drone of choice. What I need/want/wish for is a drone that will:

  1. Allow for a GoPro (or other HD video camera) to be mounted.
  2. Have some sort of GPS tracking ability.
  3. Provide a flight time more then a few minutes.
  4. Not be so fragile it will break easily.
  5. Be portable.
  6. Have a good list of spare parts available should it break (and it probably will eventually).
  7. Not require a PhD to fly.
  8. Not cost more than …. I can afford.

I’m not ruling out building my own drone. In my search I’ve found some incredible DIY drones and I’ve given a lot of thought to taking that route. It would be cool to build it myself and if I do the biggest advantage I can think of would be having the ability to fix it – not to mention the obvious bragging rights.

Hey where’d you get that?” asks jealous observer.
“I built it” smugly I reply.

DJI Phantom

DJI Phantom

The fear of building it is weighted against the fear it won’t fly right. That’s one thing pointing me in the direction of a ready to fly model – like the DJI Phantom. That and the fear a kit will sit unfinished in the corner of my workshop because I moved on to something else.

I’m going to give it a lot of thought and will write my choice as soon as I figure it out. It’s exciting to look at what’s out there.

Why a Drone?

My interest in drones and robotics began when I served in the Navy. Part of the job I had as a Clearance Diver included piloting ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles). It was one of the cooler jobs I’ve had and I loved it. We conducted searches for mines, wrecks, lost items, and, sorry to say, people. I got to be good at it too.

I know it’s not quite the same as an aerial drone but the principales are the same. Here are some images from some of the trips we made back in 2004:

DSIS

The DSIS was about as big as my Fiat 500.

DSIS

Size comparison of DSIS to a man.

DSIS Panel

Slightly more instruments than a quadcopter.

DSIS

The DSIS was a joy to pilot!

DSIS

Piloting DSIS from the cage.

DSIS cameras and manipulator arm.

DSIS cameras and manipulator arm.

So you can see why I’m interested in drones and robots. Once you get to play with something like this the feeling doesn’t go away. I loved it!

DSIS approaches aU-Boat

DSIS approaches a U-Boat.

Drone Regulations

So what are the regulations for this kind of thing? Where can I fly it? Obviously it would create quite a shitstorm if I flow it over the Navy dockyard. I need to worry about hurting someone too so maybe away from people is the order of the day until I get proficient as a pilot. There are some groups in Canada that post a lot of information about RC aircraft. There’s even a club here in Halifax I might check out.

Transport Canada regulations for Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) state the difference between unmanned air vehicles and model aircraft:

Model aircraft” means an aircraft, the total weight of which does not exceed 35 kg (77.2 pounds), that is mechanically driven or launched into flight for recreational purposes and that is not designed to carry persons or other living creatures. Although some micro unmanned air vehicles may weigh less than 35 kg, they are operated by research institutions and other organizations for non-recreational purposes.

So if I’m just using a small drone for fun I should be good to go provided I stay away from parks and use some common sense. Of course if I get some good video and sell it I’ll have to start filing flight plans.

Drones in Canada

Dragonfly X6

Dragonfly X6

The RCMP is eyeing the creation of a fleet of small, drone-like helicopters fitted with cameras to help probe crimes, reconstruct traffic accidents and assist with search and rescue. A unit tested in British Columbia, the Draganflyer X6 — made by a Saskatoon company — weighs only a kilogram and is less than a metre wide. The craft and accessories cost about $33,000. Slightly out of my price range!

The Canadian Air Force and Navy are also expanding the testing of drones over Canadian soil, giving itself — and potentially law-enforcement agencies — more eyes in the sky. But a legal expert warns the emerging technology needs close study and clear restrictions when it’s not being used to wage war.

Errol Mendes, a University of Ottawa law professor, says parliamentarians should have a close look at the emerging technology and consider the implications of their civilian use.

“This is going to be coming eventually because there is no doubt that patrolling by aerial means is far more effective than on the ground,” he said.

Mendes said that use of UAVs is where law-makers need to step in and define the rules, especially since military drones have a suite of surveillance technology, including infrared capabilities, that have a whole range of privacy implications.

Drone use outside America

The U.S. military is now launching more drone strikes — an average of 33 per month — than at any moment in the 11 years of the Afghan conflict. It’s a major escalation from just last year, when the monthly average was 24.5. And it’s happening while the rest of the American war effort is winding down: There are 34,000 fewer American troops than there were in early 2011; U.S. casualties are down 40 percent from 2010′s toll; militant attacks are off by about a quarter; civilian deaths have declined slightly.

Altogether the United States and Britain launched about 1,200 drone strikes in recent wars, mainly against targets in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The total number of drone sorties flown by the two countries is over 36,000 (including flights in Libya and Yemen).

Drone use in America

President Barack Obama has promised to be forthcoming with the American public on his administration’s campaign of lethal drone strikes amid criticism over the targeting of suspected U.S. terrorism suspects abroad.

“What I think is absolutely true is it’s not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we’re doing the right thing,” Obama said in an online video question-and-answer session sponsored by Google.

“There has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil,” he said. “We respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside of the United States. The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States.”

His statements follow a growing campaign of opposition to the use of drones when it comes to targeting Americans either abroad or on U.S. soil. That opposition comes from both sides of the political spectrum with ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Christopher Anders stating that “Everyone has a right to know what the rules are, and that’s what’s been hidden from the American public and even Congress,” while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said: “We will not tolerate secret lists of American citizens who can be killed without trial.”

Drones in the News

Rise of Drones in U.S. Drives Efforts to Limit Police Use

Drones are taking to the skies in the U.S.

A future for drones: Automated killing

Military Stats Reveal Epicenter of U.S. Drone War

ACLU, Tea Party Align Against Drone Program

Drones over America

Suddenly drones are everywhere — not in the skies over the United States, as they will be in their thousands in a few years, and not just hovering over foreign battlefields to strike terror in the heart of al-Qaida — but as the focus of debate in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere.

By | 2016-10-21T21:43:39+00:00 February 18th, 2013|Categories: Random Posts|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Rise of the Drones
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