Less than a month ago, rumors that celebrity news and gossip website TMZ was interested in obtaining a paparazzi drone prompted privacy concerns and public debate about the appropriate personal and commercial uses of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Now, a new online video poses a more troubling question: What if civilian drones are equipped to shoot more than just pictures?
Titled “Citizen Drone Warfare” and posted to YouTube last week by an anonymous man calling himself “Milo Danger,” the video shows a hobbyist drone equipped with a custom-mounted paintball pistol flying over a grassy field and peppering human-shaped shooting-range targets with pellets.
Following an attack pass by the drone, one of the targets sports three large red blotches on its head and neck area.
“I wanted to show an inevitability of what I think will happen with these drones,” said “Milo,” who lives on the West Coast and spoke to The Washington Times on condition of anonymity. “I’m not advocating bad activities. But I wanted to raise some of the ethical issues we need to think about with this new technology.
“We didn’t post the footage of this, but some of the guys who worked with me on the project weren’t afraid of being shot by paintballs. They wanted to see if they could escape the drone. The answer was, no, they could not.”
Though Federal Aviation Administration regulations do not explicitly mention the use of firearms on drones, they do prohibit any type of recreational flying or dropping objects from aircraft that endanger life or property.
DIYDrones.com, a drone hobbyist website and online community that counts defense and aerospace engineers among its 32,000 members and averages more than 1.5 million page views a month, discourages using or modifying drones for any uses that are “potentially illegal or intended to do harm.”
“We’ve banned the weaponized use of drones,” said Chris Anderson, the site’s founder. “So in our community, the reaction to this video is dismay. We’re particularly interested in civilian uses of drones, things like search-and-rescue and filming sports teams. Obviously, putting a paintball gun on a drone doesn’t help.”
American Civil Liberties Union policy analyst Jay Stanley wrote on the organization’s website that the video was “pretty scary” and America “cannot allow our skies to fill with flying robots armed with all manner of dangerous weapons.”
Mr. Stanley also noted that defense experts have warned for years that small, commercially available drones could be used as weapons. In 2004, a New Zealand engineer managed to build a miniature cruise missile for less than $5,000, a project that subsequently was shut down by the nation’s government because of security concerns.
Last month, a 27-year-old Massachusetts man was sentenced to 17 years in prison for plotting to attack the Pentagon and the Capitol with a remote-controlled model aircraft rigged with explosives.
“We’ve called for a ban on armed drones, and I think there’s a broad consensus that we should not allow armed drones to be used domestically,” said Mr. Stanley, the author of a report on drones and privacy. “The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended against it. I think this video likely will further cement that consensus.”
In the video, Milo wears sunglasses, a black baseball cap, a large American-flag bandanna that covers his face and a T-shirt reading “Dangerous Information” — the latter the name of a fledgling Web video series that explores topics such as picking locks and growing marijuana.View Entire Story
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Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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