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Hullabaloo


Saturday, February 09, 2013

 
More and more drones, coming to a neighborhood near you

by David Atkins

Local Ventura County Republican Assemblymember Jeff Gorell tweeted tonight about this adorable conference coming up on March 26-28 at the Hyatt Westlake in Thousand Oaks:

UAVs- A California Perspective, a Policy Symposium

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) spending is expected to almost double over the next decade, from annual worldwide expenditures of $6.6 billion to $11.4 billion, totaling more than $89 billion over the next ten years.Congress has directed the FAA to create six testing sites and a UAV certification plan by 2015. California is expected to earn one of those test sites.

Learn how you can benefit from the growth of the UAV market.

UAVs are currently in use or under consideration around the world and in U.S. unrestricted airspace for such civil and commercial uses as:

Wildfire Detection and Management
Pollution Monitoring
Event Security
Traffic Monitoring
Disaster Relief
Fisheries Management
Pipeline Monitoring & Oil and Gas Security
Meteorology - Storm Tracking
Remote Aerial Mapping
Transmission Line Inspection
And who is putting on this conference, aside from the drone manufacturers? Well, California's high-profile Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom for one, as well as a number of other Democratic legislators including Assemblymember Steven Bradford, newly and narrowly elected Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi and Bell corruption reform advocate and Assemblymember Christina Garcia.

These aren't bad people. But drones are big business, without even getting into law enforcement or military applications. And they're not always a bad thing. The World Wildlife Fund recently purchased two unarmed drones to deal with poachers in wildlife preserves:

Conservation group WWF has announced plans to deploy surveillance drones to aid its efforts to protect species in the wild, as the South African government revealed that 82 rhinos had been poached there since the new year.

The green group says that by the end of the year, it will have deployed "eyes in the sky" in one country in Africa or Asia, with a second country following in 2014 as part of a $5m hi-tech push to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

Allan Crawford, project leader for the WWF Google technology project, who had just returned from the Kruger national park where many of South Africa's rhinos are being killed, told the Guardian: "It's a very scary prospect for rangers … they could run into very heavily armed gangs of poachers, there's usually four or five of them, sometimes with dogs. They've also got wild animals to contend with – one ranger was recently attacked by a lion. They're outnumbered, and sometimes poachers have night-vision equipment. There aren't enough resources to tackle this in South Africa at the moment. This is where the new technologies come in, to help them."

Drones are already being used by conservationists to monitor wildlife, such as orangutan populations in Sumatra, anti-whaling activists are using them against the Japanese whaling fleet, and a charity in Kenya recently beat its target of raising $35,000 in crowdfunding for a drone to protect rhinos and other wildlife in the country's Laikipia district. One South African rhino farmer is even planning to put 30 drones in the sky himself. But the way the three key technologies are being used by WWF is "unprecedented", Crawford said.

A pair of drones will be used in each of the two countries selected, which the group hopes to name within weeks, with plans to ultimately be operational in four sites by 2015, with different terrains. Crawford said the software and drones, which would be operated by rangers or local law enforcement, would "generate a strategic deployment of rangers in the most cost effective way, so they can form a shield between animals and poachers."
Like most things in life, drones are a mixed bag. They can be used for good or ill. It's hard to argue that putting this technology in the hands of the World Wildlife Fund to help track down poachers is a bad thing. On the other hand, giving civilian law enforcement boys even more toys to potentially abuse the civilian population isn't attractive, either.

Regardless, the handwriting on drones is on the wall. Drones are coming, and lots of them in both private and public hands. The question for civil liberties groups is what sort of restrictions can and should be demanded on their use by what groups, and what sort of restrictions are likely to be politically possible.

It will be a long struggle, but a future without domestic surveillance drones--for good and evil--won't be one of the outcomes.


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