by Karl Arnold Belser
26 December 2013

War is one of the most important things that might happen in the uncertain future, and the drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) is currently the most advanced implement of war. See the NOVA video about drones. I note that innovation in warfare technology has dominated the course of human history.

The war today is against terrorism. Terrorists usually do not have any country or other center that can be attacked by conventional means. Rather, the terrorists are usually distributed to hidden cells all over the world. Drones have been developed to fight in this new type of environment. The drone weapon has been effective in surgical strikes on suspected cells. However, there have been collateral deaths of innocent people, even US citizens. The Killing Machines article from the Atlantic gives of good overview of the effectiveness of today’s drone technology.

One of the most disturbing interpretations of the Constitution is that US citizens who become enemy combatants do not have the right of habeas corpus, that is, the right to be captured and tried in a court of law.  Instead, either the US military or the CIA can “take out” these enemy combatants using drones. So far these drone attacks have not occurred on American soil, but one might imagine this happening.

I think that the United States would be wise to define itself by either legislation or Supreme Court ruling to be an organism that has an inside and an outside. The Constitution would apply to those inside the organism, and the rules of warfare would apply to those outside the organism. This definition would mean that the US needs a function analogous to the skin of the body that controls what people and things move across the borders.

The real issue with drones has to do with domestic policy. Drones with high surveillance and payload capability are becoming cheaper, to the point that almost anyone with a model airplane interest can buy and use one. The cheapest is the quadcopter.

One can imagine that the police will want to use them to aid in criminal investigations. Today surveillance cameras are ubiquitous and have helped lower the crime rate. Drones have the potential for a similar positive effect. High flying drones could capture and keep high resolution video images of everything that happens in a city for example. (An Example)

Another example is 
Chris Anderson who founded 3D Robotics using this simple technology and is applying it to data collection in agriculture.  He is operating out of San Diego with a factory in Mexico.

Amazon is proposing Prime Air to deliver small (2 kg) packages over a 10 mile range. One might imagine many issues with packages left unattended or of crowding of the skys with drones.

The united States has not determined how to regulate drones at low altitudes in urban areas.  Its regulation seems daunting, but I do expect regulations that will allow police and fire departments to use drones in place of people in very dangerous situations. I don't expect any universal answer in the near future. However, individuals will probably use drones anyway for a multiplicity of purposes, many of them illegal.

I am concerned about whether individuals might use radio controlled drones domestically as spying or killing machines. One can buy a very sophisticated quadcopter with a streaming video camera for under $1000 that operates under the current rules for radio controlled model planes. Simple explosives could be transported and detonated using such drones.

I imagine that it might be difficult for the police to control drone usage for invading another person's privacy. I think that people would want to protect themselves against spying drones. I have seen videos of people using shot guns to down a drone, but this type of defense would not be allowed in a city. Some other weapon would be needed.

For example, it is possible to build a cheap Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon using a Marx Generator that could  damage the drone electronics.  The domestic usage of drones might encourage the development of this type of weapon. However, such a weapon could be used in many other situations like stopping heart pacemakers, disabling hearing aids or cell phones, or even robbing a payload carrying drone. Hence, the control of EMP weapons might be as difficult as controlling drones.

Today the American public is relatively happy. So I don’t expect anyone to be angry enough to experiment with drones as killing machines. However, domestic drone usage and EMP weapon development are within the adjacent possible.

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