The ad­vent and dan­gers of drones

What drones mean for our fu­ture

The McGill Daily - - News - Bao Chau Bui & Lana Saleh Bacha Sci+tech Writ­ers

There is presently no pre­cise data on the num­ber of civil­ians killed by drones. Trans­port Canada needs to is­sue new rules, poli­cies, min­i­mum age of drone fly­ing as well as li­censes for recre­ational use in the near fu­ture to keep up with this fast evolv­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Con­tent Warn­ing: mil­i­tary, war­fare, death

The US em­ployed drones as weapons in the wars they waged against coun­tries such as Pak­istan, Afghanistan, Ye­men – and con­tinue to use them, to­day. In these and many other af­fected coun­tries, drones rep­re­sent a con­stant fear of death for most civil­ians. The sky be­comes as­so­ci­ated with a de­struc­tive tech­nol­ogy that does not dis­tin­guish be­tween civil­ian or en­emy, and threat­ens to kill them at any­time. Drones in­volve an op­er­a­tor in front of a screen (that looks like a scene from a First-per­son Shooter video game) con­trol­ling the fate of peo­ple’s lives across the world.

Some ar­gue that us­ing drones in war can hardly be con­sid­ered a war when it is a one-sided bat­tle, and in­volves a shooter hid­den safely far away from all pos­si­ble dan­ger. Un­der the gov­ern­ment’s claim to “com­bat ter­ror­ism,” in­no­cent civil­ians have been targeted and killed by drones. More alarm­ingly, there is presently no pre­cise data on the num­ber of civil­ians killed by drones. The U.S. gov­ern­ment does not pro­vide the ac­tual num­ber of ca­su­al­ties but the Columbia Hu­man Rights Clinic es­ti­mates that in 2011, 72 to 155 civil­ians were killed, with 52 of them iden­ti­fied re­li­ably by name in Pak­istan alone. The Bu­reau of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­istm also es­ti­mates that 800 civil­ians have bveen killed by drone strikes in Pak­istan, Ye­men, and So­ma­lia.

As demon­strated in nu­mer­ous U.S. mis­sions to sup­pos­edly com­bat ter­ror­ism, a vac­uum can be cre­ated which fu­els rad­i­cal groups and per­pet­u­ates Is­lam­o­pho­bic rhetoric. Not only do drones cause phys­i­cal dam­age, but they con­trib­ute to the vi­cious cy­cle of the U.S.’ War on Ter­ror­ism. We ar­gue that drones should be aban­doned in wars no mat­ter how tempt­ing it is to use them be­cause the con­se­quences of drone war­fare, such as un­known civil­ian ca­su­al­ties as well as fu­el­ing ter­ror­ism, are much more im­por­tant than the ad­van­tage of pos­si­bly pro­tect­ing the sol­diers’ safety.

The dan­gers in the in­creased use of drones are im­por­tant to keep in mind in or­der to make ad­e­quate rules and reg­u­la­tions. Drone crashes are dan­ger­ous – and since air­planes can­not de­tect small drones in the sky, drone crashes might put pi­lot and pas­sen­ger safety in peril.

Safety and pri­vacy is­sues as well as data se­cu­rity are a few of the main con­cerns re­gard­ing prop­a­ga­tion of drone tech­nol­ogy , in ad­di­tion to the aforo­men­tioned is­sues. In 2015, a vi­ral video de­picted an 18-year-old in Con­necti­cut who, work­ing with his univer­sity pro­fes­sor, as­sem­bled a gun-fir­ing drone, and the video shows the drone fir­ing a gun out­side at no par­tic­u­lar tar­get. Al­though they tech­ni­cally did not vi­o­late any laws since no­body was hurt, it is still dan­ger­ous when weapons can be pos­si­bly placed on drones by any civil­ian. This video clearly demon­strates how much drones need to be reg­u­lated in de­tail.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion in the U.S is cur­rently try­ing to reg­u­late drones in a bal­anced way that al­lows for tech­no­log­i­cal growth while pro­tect­ing civil­ians’ rights and safety. Al­though there are cur­rently drone pi­lot train­ing schools in place, a cer­tifi­cate from one of these schools must be es­sen­tial for drone own­ers. Fur­ther­more, tick­ets and penal­ties need to be put in place re­gard­ing breach of rules of drone fly­ing con­duct. New drone sur­veil­lance tech­nolo­gies need to be de­vel­oped in or­der to en­sure drones will not hin­der se­cu­rity in any way.

In Canada, if a drone weighs less than 35 kilo­grams and is not used for com­mer­cial pur­poses (mean­ing it is strictly for recre­ational use), no per­mis­sion is needed for it to be ob­tained: any­one can get a drone as long as those con­di­tions are sat­is­fied. The le­gal re­quire­ment is to fol­low the rules in the Cana­dian Avi­a­tion Reg­u­la­tions, more specif­i­cally the Un­manned air ve­hi­cles and Model Air­craft sec­tions. If an air­craft is put at risk, if drones are fly­ing in re­stricted zones or if they hin­der any­body’s safety, a fine of up to $25,000 may be is­sued as well as jail time. The reg­u­la­tions as­sure ba­sic safety for civil­ians, but they def­i­nitely need to be ex­panded upon. Trans­port Canada needs to is­sue new rules, poli­cies, min­i­mum age of drone fly­ing as well as li­censes for recre­ational use in the near fu­ture to keep up with this fast evolv­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Nev­er­the­less, we are hop­ing that this ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy is used for more fruit­ful pur­poses that do not put in ques­tion our ethics. Drones should be adapted to be used in agri­cul­ture for ex­am­ple in ef­fi­cient seed­ing, ir­ri­ga­tion, crop spray­ing and get­ting soil and crop yield analysis. Drones have been aid­ing in re­mote sens­ing for op­ti­mized man­age­ment of nat­u­ral re­sources, and these de­vices are used in the Agri­cul­tural and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences Fac­ulty lo­cated at Mac­don­ald Cam­pus.

Drones cap­tur­ing high res­o­lu­tion im­ages as well as crop data can help to present maps show­ing soil qual­ity and pos­si­ble dam­age to plants. Drones can in­creas­ingly help trans­port­ing sup­plies like food and med­i­cal kits to re­mote ar­eas. On a sim­i­lar note, Ama­zon and Google want to use drones for pack­age de­liv­er­ies and more com­pa­nies might join in soon af­ter. Al­though this might en­cour­age more peo­ple to con­sume and buy items since the de­liv­ery is fast and ef­fi­cient, this de­liv­ery sys­tem might be good for the en­vi­ron­ment by re­duc­ing trav­el­ing to stores usu­ally done by cars re­duc­ing a bit of traf­fic and con­sum­ing less fuel Drones can also be used in many other fields like jour­nal­ism to cap­ture per­haps a re­al­ity or event that would be dif­fi­cult to cap­ture in per­son due to se­cu­rity or ac­ces­si­bil­ity is­sues es­pe­cially in wartorn coun­tries.

Films and doc­u­men­taries can be made us­ing drones in­stead of us­ing he­li­copters and fly­ing a film­ing crew to re­mote ar­eas to cap­ture in­ac­ces­si­ble land­scapes. Traf­fic sur­veil­lance and con­ser­va­tion of wildlife are among other pos­si­bil­i­ties of drone us­age that seem promis­ing. They have the po­ten­tial of pro­tect­ing some types of wildlife and forests, and they have the abil­ity to track wildlife, and be used in the fight against poach­ers via ther­mal imag­ing. It might take time and be chal­leng­ing at first, but with fu­ture drone reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies, this tech­nol­ogy can be in­te­grated in our so­ci­ety with ease, hop­ing that aside from their recre­ational use, drones can help solve some of our trans­porta­tion, data ac­qui­si­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

Marc Cataford | The Mcgill Daily

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