, Salem, MA


June 17, 2014

Watson: Drones are poised to take over


Those and scores of other models are incredibly sophisticated already, and their technological development is advancing rapidly. Currently, drones can be programmed and controlled with software on tablets, smartphones and laptops. They have autopilots and are GPS-guided. Their range and payload capabilities are constantly increasing. Some have bright lights, and some are quiet, although almost all emit some degree of whirring sound.

Although the FAA currently severely restricts the use of drones, many are in use anyway. Utilities, farms, energy facilities, scientists and construction companies already make productive, monitoring use of drones, and many more commercial uses await the FAA’s anticipated approvals. Newspapers and media companies, especially, can’t wait to implement widespread use of drones. Aerial video of accidents, disasters, wars, events, sports and celebrities will proliferate.

Private citizens will own drones, too. As the prices come down, and as more uses increasingly are found for the devices, UAVs will multiply enormously.

As you can guess, there are many issues that will arise as drones fill the skies. Already, in many states, privacy concerns are being debated, as flying cameras capture images that individuals or corporations want kept hidden. And as police departments increasingly (and avidly) employ drones, what privacy rights will citizens have on their own property, or simply to travel untracked? Will drones be permitted to immobilize suspects during a chase? How about street demonstrators?

What rules will govern commercial drones? Can they fill the low-level skies with commerce, noise, movement, lights and advertising? The valuable tasks — like delivering medicine — that can be performed by drones are numerous and wonderful, but on the other hand, the potential for an overwhelming number of problems is huge.

I am not optimistic that we’ll be able to strike a healthy balance between the pros and cons of widespread UAV use. Look at the powers pushing drones: the Amazons, Googles, Facebooks, big media, big corporate, big oil, big finance, academia, Hollywood, law enforcement and government. That’s just about everybody except ordinary citizens and big labor (which anticipates net job loss with UAVs).

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