Each war has brought about new forms of technology, ranging from muskets used in the American Civil War to nuclear weapons dropped during World War II. The one common factor between each war is that they have been fought by military personnel, but World War III may be taking on a new frontier – civilian fighters. The newest and deadliest weapons can be built as small as the palm of your hand and are easily obtained with a quick trip to your local hobby store.
Drones are small flying vehicles capable of being controlled from a remote location. They are affordable, meaning they can be purchased by an average civilian. Once purchased, drones can be equipped to become deadly, untraceable weapons. Common radio controlled drones can fly about a mile away from their controller, and can stay in the air for as long as 30 minutes.
An Indiegogo filming project under the name “UAV- Drone Wars” is looking to bring awareness to the rising issue of drone weaponization and abuse. The lead filmmaker of the project is Rubidium Wu, a talented director who has worked on other various popular projects such as The Silent City and The Devil’s Fortune. Through the power of the Internet and the support of people like you, the project will be used to generate attention for the lack of laws affecting drone usage. The end result is to produce an hour long feature film over the course of three months to show the world just how lethal drones are becoming.
“Unlike nuclear power, drones are widely available,” Rubidium commented during an interview on the project. That is what makes drones so dangerous. Anyone with a couple hundred bucks in their pocket can go out and purchase a drone for personal usage, and then customize it to suit their needs. For recreational purposes this is harmless fun, but when it escalates to equipping cameras and weapons onto these devices they can quickly turn lethal.
The biggest advantage society has against drone abuse is the limited payload that most common drones have. According to Wu, the average payload of a drone is about 200 grams, which is about the weight of a single GoPro camera. However, more expensive drones can carry much larger payloads, with some even being steady enough to carry a handgun and fire it. One example of this is the YouTube video uploaded by user Austin Haughwout, which shows a quadcopter – a drone with four blades – firing a semi-automatic handgun four times. Each shot pushes the drone back, but only briefly before it can regain its position and fire again.
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) does regulate the usage of drones to a degree, but much is left open to interpretation. It was found that equipping the handgun onto the drone and firing it was completely legal and did not violate any direct FAA laws, but it is currently under investigation as to whether or not this act would be considered reckless endangerment. Austin Haughwout’s father, Brett Haughwout, told reporters that they had carefully reviewed the laws surrounding weaponizing drones before doing so and found that it did not violate any laws.
As technology advances, it shouldn’t be long before a majority of drones are capable of having a big enough payload to carry these types of weapons. Quadcopters have already reached this point by using four rotors to give a more powerful lift and better control over the drone. Two rotors move clockwise, while the other two move counter-clockwise, allowing for a varying use of RPM to control the drone’s movements. “Large drones
are noisy, which is an advantage,” explained Rubidium as he shared some of the advantages we have against the weaponization of drones. While quadcopters are quite capable of carrying weapons, they are loud and easy to locate. This does provide some form of defensive advantage against drone attacks.
Another strategic advantage against drone attacks is through their radio frequency. By scrambling the radio frequency a drone is flying on, you can cut off the connection between the drone and the controller. Scrambling a frequency isn’t a defense available to the average person, which makes it mainly a defense that can be used by the federal government.
Defending yourself against a drone may not be completely legal in itself. As the law stands now, you cannot shoot down a drone that is hovering over your property. Rubidium shared a story in which a teenage girl who was sunbathing in her own backyard saw a drone hovering over the property. She alerted her father, who noticed that the drone had a camera installed on it, and was taking footage of his daughter on his property. He grabbed his shotgun and shot down the drone, and is now being prosecuted with a felony for endangerment and criminal mischief. The owner of the drone has not been charged at all. This isn’t the only case of this happening.
A resident in New Jersey shot down a neighbor’s drone after it had crossed his property line, and was charged with using a weapon for unlawful purposes and criminal mischief. Another man located in California shot down a neighbor’s drone above his property that he thought was a CIA surveillance device, and ended up losing the small claims court case and paying the owner back for the drone.
Defending against a drone is difficult since the law is based on opinion, as you can only shoot it down if it shows itself to be a threat. Simply flying over your property isn’t enough to classify it as a threat, and even having equipment attached to it doesn’t qualify it. There are very few other methods for removing a drone since they are mobile and capable of flying out of reach, which means that in most cases you have to allow a drone to fly overhead and cannot do anything about it.
This shows exactly how messed up the law is with drones. Your only option is to call the police, but even a police officer has restrictions on how they can go about removing a drone. Finding the owner of the drone is a whole different situation since there isn’t a traceable way of locating the controller. This creates a whole new area of danger for operating these types of devices.
Being anonymous makes it quite difficult to prosecute a person for abusing the usage of a drone. Attaching a weapon onto a drone and firing it at someone would mean that the victim would have no way of identifying the person that used the weapon, and video surveillance would only be able to see the weapon used and not the person that used it. A similar issue happened during Seattle’s Gay Pride Parade.
While there wasn’t a weapon, a drone managed to fall from the sky and land on a woman’s head during the parade. She was standing near 4th Avenue and Madison while watching the events of the parade when the two pound drone fell clean out of the sky and landed on her head. It knocked her out on impact, and she was caught by her boyfriend before she hit the ground. She was treated by an off-duty fireman while waiting for police officers to arrive. They confiscated the device, but have hardly any leads on identifying who the controller was that caused the injury. In this particular case, there is a little bit of video footage of the man setting up the drone, but it only gives a vague view of what the man looks like and is only a few seconds long.
It is highly unlikely that he will ever face criminal prosecution for the unintended assault since his identity is anonymous.
Another major issue with drones is the amount of privacy we are given. Being video taped and monitored by a random stranger is an eerie thought, and it’s even worse when we have no way of preventing it. While weaponizing drones for the average citizen may be around the corner, surveillance crimes are here now. “The [highest] potential for drones to be used for crime is drone surveillance,” explained Wu.
This is where things can get interesting. Drones can use cameras so the pilot can steer them, but how do you know if they are saving the video feed? It can be quite difficult to prosecute a person for video taping using a drone in an area where filming is illegal without prior permission. Proving that they were using the video for filming purposes would take a great deal of effort, and that’s only if you were able to track down the owner of the drone. This makes it easy for someone to violate your rights to privacy.
It’s only a matter of time before these devices are used for terrorism and civilian warfare. Drones can carry a couple pounds worth of explosives, weapons, and surveillance equipment. In a military exercise, $5,000 worth of drones were pinned against a small convoy of armored vehicles – the drones won. These are very powerful little tools that are hard to return fire to, and even more difficult to track down the owners for. The famous drone that landed on the lawn of the white house was the same model that was used to show that some drones were capable of carrying up to three pounds of explosives, which depicts just how dangerous that device could have been if it was armed.
The Drone Wars project can be a big step in the right direction to create more laws surrounding drones in order to protect ourselves. This is a rising threat that needs to be taken care of. The only way change is going to happen is through widespread attention, which is exactly why the project is aiming to create a viral one hour film that you can help create. Through a small donation you can help bring the project closer to completion one step at a time.