Look up in the sky… Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a drone. And not just one, but seemingly hundreds of the things—all with propellers flashing in the sun as they whine and whirr anonymously over our heads. They can be used for lots of useful things… taking pictures of your neighbours and their unapproved conservatory extension, counting the number of elephants per square mile in Africa (yes really) or monitoring factories or forests for unwanted intruders. Some of them fly high enough (without human intervention) to measure local weather patterns which might seem a good concept except for the growing number of near misses with jumbo jets near Heathrow.
There’s no regulation as yet—people buy them and people fly them without much regard to any law or public decency. It’s real ‘Spy in the Sky’ stuff and is a significant threat to all our individual freedoms. Modern newspaper paparazzi regularly deploy high definition camera drones to obtain photos they’d never be able to get by any other means such as very close close-ups of Prince Harry’s teeth or Mary Berry’s lip gloss. I’d argue that it’s all got too intrusive when we can see the inner workings of David Cameron’s nostril hairs. Too much drone information…
Hollywood has been using radio controlled aerial drones for years. How else would they have got those incredible pan shots of James Bond riding his motorcycle over the rooftops of Istanbul in Skyfall? But it’s the military of course who find drones the most useful. It’s so much cheaper (and safer) to blow up nasty terrorists if you can do it from the comfort of a desk in Washington or Manchester. Just like a video game—although there’s something rather chilling about observing your enemies 5,000 miles away on a video screen and then obliterating them with the quiet click of a mouse button. H.G.Wells would have loved drones because they are his science fiction turned fact.
As I read my newspaper this morning, I see drones have delivered emergency medication to a remote pharmacy in the US (apparently it would have taken hours by road but only a few minutes by drone-air). I also read that China is using drone cameras to hover around assessment halls to ensure students don’t cheat during exams, and I gather that Amazon are seriously considering deliveries to their millions of customers by airborne drone. Really? So can you tell me how someone signs for a drone delivery? Presumably we have to catch the parcel as it floats to earth (what if you’re no good at cricket and the item falls down a drain or gets stuck in a tree?) and then we’ll be told to look up, smile and wave at the camera in the sky so it records face recognition and visual proof of a successful transfer. You think I’m joking? No, this will happen soon—believe me!
The problem is not so much about the things themselves, but more about who is piloting them. Who owns them and what are they doing? It’s natural to be suspicious because they’re rather creepy objects—mechanical eyes and no faces. I could drone on and on about anti-drone hysteria: ‘Hordes of Horrible Hoverers’ invading our shores like swarms of buzzing mechanical bees, spying on us and taking all our jobs etc, but this not the case. Here in the south-west, they would be used for boring automated tasks that nobody would want to do, such as monitoring hundreds of miles of farm land, supervising car parks in Bridport or collecting endless takeaways from McDonalds. Continuously droning up and down Chesil Beach looking for swimmers in trouble would be a good job and might even help compensate for our dwindling air-sea rescue resources. Off Australia they’re already in use automatically searching the coastline for man eating sharks, so the same sort of observation skills would be very possible here.
However for every positive action there will likely be a negative reaction. I see they’re already making anti-drone drones—buzzing beasts who will shoot down your drone if you stray too far onto their territory. Very Star Wars sort of stuff…
I have the perfect answer to over-intrusive drones—an answer which would provide harmless entertainment for many as well as making a highly significant contribution to free society. There are lots of people in our part of the world who like to go shooting. Normally their targets include pheasant or partridge, but much fun could be had if all the guns lined up along hedgerows and then jumped up to blast passing drones from the skies. Late evening talk in local pubs would never be the same… “Good shot old boy! You bagged that AX-227C fairly in the rotor. Hellava flash of blitzed electrics and we all got rained on by bits of falling battery!” And what’s more, no wild life would be harmed in the process, so Drone Shooting is a win-win sport surely?