Domestic Drones Are Coming Your Way

Unmanned aerial vehicles are capable of far more than just state-sanctioned killing and police surveillance.


When Americans think about drones today, they tend to think of two things: state-sanctioned killing and police surveillance. Yet drones are capable of so much more.

Six hours into his epic filibuster last week, Sen. Rand Paul had to settle for Mike & Ike's from the Senate candy drawer to quell his hunger. But is there any question he would have much rather had some delicious carnitas delivered by quadrocopter?

TacoCopter is the very-early-stage start-up—or hoax, depending on how you look at things—that promises to deliver tacos via autonomous drones to the coordinates of customers who place orders using a smartphone app. It sounds crazy, but it is actually perfectly plausible. Small drones are made from many of the same components as smartphones, and the economies of scale of that industry have driven the cost of gyroscopes, accelerometers, GPS chips, and CPUs to the ground. As a result, the widespread use of drones in commerce is imminent—unless politicians overreact to the bad press.

While Paul's stand brought much needed attention to the government's use of drones in targeted killings, it also created the danger that the public will only see drones in this negative light. Unmanned aerial vehicles and other autonomous systems, however, are neutral technologies that can be put to good uses as well as bad ones. Yet panic about some particular applications, like assassination and surveillance, could hamper their adoption for wholly beneficial purposes.

Local delivery of goods is one obvious application for domestic commercial drones. For example, Matternet is a startup that aims to use flying robots to transport drugs and medical testing kits to remote regions of the world. Other commercial applications abound. Farmers today use drones not only to spray their crops, but also to monitor soil patterns, reducing the amount of chemicals and water they use. Photographers and filmmakers can now easily get aerial shots that previously required expensive manned helicopters or airplanes. And heavy industry uses drones to inspect pipelines or otherwise take a peek wherever else it's too dangerous to send a human.

Scientists use drones to study wildlife without disturbing it, and journalists are looking to use them in reporting. In 2011, Occupy Wall Street activists launched drones over Zuccotti Park to keep an eye out for police brutality. Some even envision a day when flying robots will construct buildings.

This is why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that the commercial drone industry could grow to $90 billion over then next 10 years. It just has to be legalized first.

Today, the for-profit use of drones is illegal. That's why there are no TacoCopter deliveries to be had. On the other hand, non-commercial uses of small drones are in something of a legal gray area, viewed as similar to hobbyist model planes. That's how farmers get away with using them; essentially the FAA looks the other way. But this is all about to change.

Last year, Congress passed legislation requiring the FAA to issue regulations integrating drones into the national airspace by September 2015. The agency has begun its work gingerly, starting the testing process that will lead to commercial use, and issuing experimental licenses to law enforcement agencies.

That last bit is what has many worried about the coming proliferation of domestic drones. While there are plenty of good public safety uses for drones—like emergency response in hazardous situations—there are also some to be feared, in particular the prospect of cheap and routine warrantless surveillance by the police. More ominously, the ACLU has noted: "Drone manufacturers are also considering offering police the option of arming these remote-controlled aircraft with (nonlethal for now) weapons like rubber bullets, Tasers, and tear gas."

The reaction from the public and politicians has been fast and furious. Legislatures in at least 30 states are considering laws that restrict drone use by law enforcement. In Seattle last month, public outcry forced the mayor to order the police chief to return two new drones to their manufacturer.

So far, so good. Requiring that police get a warrant before engaging in surveillance is a no-brainer. But there is a danger that fear of governmental abuse of drones might result in the public demanding—or at least politicians hearing them ask for—precautionary restrictions on personal and commercial uses as well. For example, a bill being considered in New Hampshire would make all aerial photography illegal. And a bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would make it a crime to use a private drone to photograph someone "in a manner that is highly offensive to a reasonable person … engaging in a personal or familial activity under circumstances in which the individual had a reasonable expectation of privacy"—a somewhat convoluted standard.

Restrictions on private drones may indeed be necessary some day, as the impending explosion of drone activity will no doubt disrupt our current social patterns. But before deciding on these restrictions, shouldn't legislators and regulators wait until we have flying around more than a tiny fraction of the thousands of domestic drones the FAA estimates will be active this decade?

If officials don't wait, they are bound to set the wrong rules since they will have no real data and only their imaginations to go on. It's quite possible that existing privacy and liability laws will adequately handle most future conflicts. It's also likely social norms will evolve and adapt to a world replete with robots.

By legislating hastily out of fear we would be forgoing the learning that comes from trial and error, trading progress for illusory security. And there is no clearer sign of human progress than tacos from the sky.

NEXT: Navy Reducing Drug War Efforts in Latin America

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  1. More than drones are coming our way. The government has passed critical mass and will just keep growing, keep controlling, and keep interfering. And new technology like drones will be happily used every step of the way. This is, of course, the obvious resuly of having government in the first place. Enjoy!

    1. Again with the negative waves.

      1. Seriously. Sounds like someone got up on the wrong side of the bunker this morning.

      2. Kelly’s Heroes?

        1. We see our role as essentially defensive in nature. While our armies are advancing so fast and everyone’s knocking themselves out to be heroes, we are holding ourselves in reserve in case the Krauts mount a counteroffensive which threatens Paris. . .or maybe even New York. Then we can move in and stop them. But for 1.6 million dollars, we could become heroes for three days.

    2. Actually Epi, the present and inevitable future of flying murderbots are a direct result of your refusal to participate in the political process. If you had voted for Romney in 2012 LIKE EVERY REAL LIBERTARIAN SHOULD HAVE then we’d already be seeing the national security and surveillance state apparatuses being dismantled.

      I hope you’re proud of yourself.

      1. You’re right, Tulpa. Next election it’ll be GOP all the way for me. Voting for the future!

      2. ” If you had voted for Romney in 2012 …. we’d already be seeing the national security and surveillance state apparatuses being dismantled.”

        Sarcasm? If not, I dont quite know what to say about that.

        1. Is this sarcasm?

            1. I should have guessed you watch that fucking terrible show. You are now officially worse than Hugh; at least Hugh has the taste to not watch a sitcom.

              1. Especially not one with the greasy boyfriend from Roseanne.

              2. How did you know what show that came from, Episiarch? Why the need to publicly and loudly denounce me? After all, I could have just googled for a funny image and used it innocently.

                Methinks thou doth protest too much.

                1. Just keep spinning, dude.

                2. “How did you know what show that came from, Episiarch? ”


                  I wonder…

            2. Bullshit, it’s a great show! Yes, the “science” is a bit suspect, but the show is well written and quite funny.

        2. It’s not sarcasm at all, Suthenboy. The only way to advance our political agenda is to show one of the major parties that we will vote for their anointed candidates in every election, every time, without fail, question, or complaint.

          Once they know we’re in the bag, they’re sure to give our demands fair hearing.

          1. And your failure to participate in the election process is just a tacit acceptance of everything that will ever be done by the candidate that wins.

          2. So you’re attempting to parody me by saying essentially the opposite of what I said? Do recall I said libertarians need to become swing voters if they want political change.

            What’s hilarious, of course, is that you and your pals’ strategy of NEVER voting for a major party candidate unless (s)he agrees with the LP on 80% of issues, which will never happen, has the same effect as always voting for the same major party. Your non-vote can be taken for granted just as much as your vote would be.

            1. Why, yes, Tulpy-poo, that’s one of the ways in which parody is done. But thanks for adding to the lulz by getting all whiny.

              1. I like it when the principal comes in and proves the point in his attempt to disprove the point.

                1. OK, what point did I prove?

                  1. That you’re a thin skinned humorless fuckwit.

                    Please continue vigorously protesting a tiny, insignificant jab that wasn’t particularly clever or accurate anyway, but was obviously crafted to lure you into demonstrating (for the umpteenth time) that you’re a thin skinned humorless fuckwit.

                    1. If I were think-skinned, I wouldn’t be here anymore.

              2. It’s a common way to attempt parody, not to succeed.

                The valid, related way is to take something someone actually did say and take it to an extreme.

                Flat-out misrepresentation is just a strawman, not a parody.

                Of course, I expect Reasonoids to guffaw like the goons in the Daily Show or Colbert Report audiences when a member of the other team is “parodied”.

                1. “It’s a common way to attempt parody, not to succeed.”

                  Luckily this time it did.

                2. “Of course, I expect Reasonoids to guffaw like the goons in the Daily Show or Colbert Report audiences when a member of the other team is “parodied”.”

                  I like how you completely rip this off without attributing it, you can’t even be original when you’re crybabying.

    3. my co-worker’s step-aunt makes $67 an hour on the internet. She has been out of work for 7 months but last month her check was $20076 just working on the internet for a few hours. Here’s the site to read more… http://www.youtube.com.qr.net/kdnc

    4. Well, when I first saw “Tacocopter” I was all for it – finally a program I could really enjoy.
      than it turned out to be actual tacos

  2. Jerry Brito on Why Domestic Drones Are Coming Your Way

    “Squad leaders, we’ve picked up a new group of signals. Barry’s drones are coming your way”

    1. They came from…behind…urrgh…./

      1. Cover me Paulkins….

        1. We’re so much a bunch of geeks….

        2. It’s Porkins, dammit. If you’re going to quote Wars at least get it right.

          1. I know it’s Porkins, you womp rat.

            1. Sure you did.

              1. Does the name “Paul” have anything to do with the current drone debate? If so, perhaps I was wittily adapting Porkins to the current situation.

                1. Sure buddy.

    2. Stay on target.


      1. I’ve got a problem here.

        — Eject!

        I can hold it!

        — Pull out!

        No I’m all right….aaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhh

  3. But can they deliver Doritos Cool Ranch Tacos Locos?

    1. When this rolls out nationwide, Americans are going to get scooter fat. As in, so fat that everyone in the country will need a scooter to move around.

      Just sit there in the yard waiting for a drone to drop tacos into your mouth like berry seeds from a glorious bird of paradise.

      Think of the boom to the mumu and snuggie industry!


        1. I’d take it as a “yes”

      2. And they’re ‘Barry’ seeds, not berry.

        AKA – Gubmint cheese tacos

        1. As long as I get my burrito fixins.

  4. Unmanned aerial vehicles and other autonomous systems are neutral technologies that can be put to good uses as well as bad ones.

    Just like red light cameras. Nobody is in favor of people running red lights, right?

    1. Wait. If we attached drones to red-light cameras. . .red-light running would be a thing of the past. Sure, there would be collateral damage, but our intersections would be safe.

      1. Most drones are unarmed.

        Do you guys constantly conflate cars with tanks and yachts with destroyers, too?

        1. Your story grows tiresome.

    2. I have a drone. So far, I have put it to good uses, not bad ones.

      However, I had a control setting misconfigured and flew it into a neighbor’s yard by accident. I chose to call it a “toy helicopter” and not a “camera drone” when I went knockin’…

      1. You offer to sell him naked pictures of his wife?

        I hope you where not taking naked picturs of you kids though. That’s creepy shiz even for live and let live people like me.

  5. Yeah, without rtfa, I’m pretty sure everyone is more worried about the shooty and spy drones that the government would employ and not so worried about farmers using unmanned aerial vehicles to spray their crops.



  6. Here’s a question which just popped into my wary* little head:

    How long will it be until we start routinely reading stories about the police arresting people for *not reporting* the criminal behavior of their neighbors?

    1. We already do, at least if you count child abuse.

  7. *did he misspell “weary”? You be the judge.

    1. It’s not woolly. Nobody gets woolly. Women get weary. They don’t get woolly. Nobody gets “stress.” They’re wearing a “dress.” I hate people that get the words wrong.

    1. I literally cannot decide which is worse.

      1. The Fleetwood Mac that did that song was not the Fleetwood Mac that you know about with the chicks and such. That was the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac, one of the greatest white blues bands of all time.

        1. Buckingham didn’t write Oh Well, but he sure could play it.

          1. Buckingham is a great guitarist. Listen to his solo record he did in the mid 1990s. There is some great acoustic work on it. But Green was a God.

        2. Please, John – FFS. Alvin Lee just died….

          Have a little respect.

  8. Colombian, tight navy skirt, cowboy boots with heel. 8 out of 10.

    1. Genuine cowgirl. Daisy Dukes, a flannel shirt tied up supporting lovely breasts. Pigtails.

      1. white shorts, white tank top, honey tanned skin. looks like some kind of really good mix.

        1. Quit loitering around the Sunnyvale Retirement Home and get to work!

  9. Add to the new drone capability automated picture analysis and it would be possible to data-mine roving drone footage just as some agency could possibly data-mine all internet email traffic….

  10. “I see your problem – you forget to set the switch from ‘kill on sight’ to ‘deliver tacos.’ No wonder none of the customers left a tip!”

  11. I love that movie.

    Featuring one of the greatest movie dialog exchanges of all time:

    Rickles: So, make a deal.

    Savalas: What kind of a deal?

    Rickles: A DEAL deal. Maybe the guy’s a Republican.

    1. What movie?

      1. You’re right, that was a documentary.

        1. I am slow today. I do love that movie. And yeah for all of it being a farce, the portrayal of soldiers in that movie is a more realistic than your typical Saving Private Ryan “I want to stay here with my buddies” Hollywood fare.

  12. Hey, calm down. If you aren’t doing anything illegal then you won’t have to worry about drones looking down on you, will you?

    You libertarians, so panicky about slipperly slopes and all that. This is all for your own good, so how can you complain?

    1. Yawn. Drones can’t see anything a cop in a helicopter can’t see.

      1. Drones can maneuver between buildings and hover lower/closer to the ground.

        Plus they are cheaper to operate and less conspicuous.

        Eventually they’ll be able to operate and surveil autonomously, making the entire country a passive surveillance zone 24/7.

        But yeah other than that they are exactly like Cop Copters.

        1. I’m sure people in the 1920s felt the same way about police cars with radios. New-fangled technology that makes it easier for govt agents to coordinate and move around to see what’s going on. The end of freedom, etc.

          Eventually they’ll be able to operate and surveil autonomously, making the entire country a passive surveillance zone 24/7.

          Come on. You’d need millions of drones to make that possible; they’re never going to be THAT cheap.

          1. Never is a long long time Tulpa. You really don’t see any differences between drones and radio cars? Not even a little bit?

            1. There is no authority Tulpa won’t get on his knees for. Don’t waste your time.

            2. I see H+R still has trouble understanding analogies (curiously only analogies that question the prevailing zeitgeist – the one below analogizing drones and toilet cameras passed without question).

              Drones and cars are different objects, yes. The effect they have on police work at the time of their introduction is similar, however.

              1. The effect they have on police work at the time of their introduction is similar, however.

                Not seeing it. Spell it out, please?

          2. I’m sure people in the 1920s felt the same way about police cars with radios.

            Probably not, no. Exactly how are cop cars with radios analogous to surveillance drones?

            1. They make it easier to cast a wider net of surveillance.

              You really don’t see this? A cop on foot could only surveil a very small area with any kind of frequency. Hence the expression “a policeman on every corner” for a solution to a problem that is totally unfeasible.

              Then cars were introduced, which enabled cops to surveil much larger areas. However, all the bad guys had to do was outrace one car to get away once they were caught.

              Finally radios were installed in police cars, which allowed them to coordinate their movements and swarm on suspects. This was pretty much lights out for the gangster era.

              1. True. There are no more gangs or crimes being committed thanks to radios.

          3. really? If you believe that then you are misinformed. Nano-tech is just around the corner, and trillions of little flying sensors will cost very little by the 50’s or 60’s

    2. You know what would be even cheaper than drones, a video camera in every house linked to the police. Why not? it’s no different then a drone looking in on you. This would be fairly cheap since most houses already have internet and a computer with a camera so very little new expense is involved.

      1. Except drones can’t see under a roof.

        1. and again your grasp of technology is deficient. Many drones CAN see through walls and under roofs

      2. Why just one room?

        Toilet bowl cams for all!

      3. I nominate Tulpa for today’s two minutes hate

      4. And no annoying buzzing sound.

        1. Armed Video Cameras?

          TOILET STRIKE!

  13. how can you complain?

    Are you kidding?

    I have a tattoo of Patrick Henry on my chest, with the legend,
    What, no silk rope?

    1. Please tell me that’s true.

  14. Drones are going to be a boon to transportation.

    Pilotless aircraft. That will lead to robotic cars. Read the paper Kindle on the way to work. No more DUIs so the bar/nightclub industry will thrive….

    Net positive.

    1. What percentage of military drones are truly autonomous? Don’t most of them have a pilot on the ground somewhere, at least for some phases of flight/surveillance/combat?

      1. From what I understand they are capable of operating autonomously, but usually don’t because they’re not smart enough to decide what are good places to look at and (obviously) what are legitimate targets for missiles, in the case of weaponized drones.

        1. Once all the military’s computers and satellites are linked in one “Sky-Network” of sorts, there will be enough artificial intelligence not only to pilot the drones, but to choose their missions.

          1. Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The drone would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die, to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.

      2. Define autonomous.

        The predator and all its variations has a pilot.

        The Global Hawk is fully autonomous but can accept mission changes from the ground. No pilot moving flight controls.

        1. Well, I’m all for truly autonomous flying cars, but they damned well better be up to the task of, um, not killing me.

          Personally, I don’t think we get flying cars until people aren’t involved in piloting them.

        2. Do the Predator pilots actually operate the aircraft controls (flaps, engine power, orientation) or do they just constantly tell it where to go?

          Unless the pilots are total idiots, that Predator the Iranians captured must have landed on its own.

          1. Predator pilots (and WSOs) actually fly the thing. They sit in a box stateside. The time delay is such that they cannot takeoff or land them, so they have a guy on the ground overseas for that.

            The drone the Iranians got wasn’t a Predator it was an RQ-170. I don’t know anything about that one. Either came after my time or was classified. Looks a lot like the UCAV or a derivative. Not sure if it’s autonomous. I would hazard a guess that it is and there is probably some sort of system that allows the thing to try to land itself if it loses contact or has issues.

            If so, the engineers didn’t think that all the way through. Wouldn’t surprise me.

            Wiki RQ-170

  15. http://newsok.com/womans-trial…..le/3764734

    There is nothing sexy like crazy sexy. Of course it is all fun and games until she pushes you out of a 25 story window.

    1. I wonder what evidence they had to contradict her story?

        1. Batshit crazy.

        2. But attractive. Looking at the picture is like looking over the edge of cliff into the abyss. You can’t help but want to step closer even though you know you shouldn’t.

    2. Of course it is all fun and games until she pushes you out of a 25 story window.

      That’s a big fucking window.

      1. That’s a big fucking window.

        Or, perhaps, one of those mirrored-surfaced skyscrapers.

  16. By legislating hastily out of fear we would be forgoing the learning that comes from trial and error, trading progress for illusory security.

    But what’s the fun in that?

  17. I’m sure people in the 1920s felt the same way about police cars with radios. New-fangled technology that makes it easier for govt agents to coordinate and move around to see what’s going on. The end of freedom, etc.




  18. I think RP should introduce legislatiob requiring the hammer and sycle be put on the bottoms of all government drones so we know which ones to shoot down.

  19. Yep. That’s crazy.

    Fuckin’ Hell.

    Hide the sharp objects.

  20. The mosquito-sized spy drones will be the coolest.

  21. Quasi-On-Topic: Last night, I read a short story by Linda Nagata in Asimov’s that I really enjoyed. “Through Your Eyes“, like all good science fiction, extrapolates technology and explores their consequences. The main issues of the story would warm the cockles of any H ‘n R commenter heart: domestic drones, cybernetic sousveillance used to record police brutality, American imperial foreign policy driven by the defense industry, even in the future the mayor of New York City sucks, etc.

    The story also serves as a prequel to a novel that she wrote, which will be published soon. The genre seems to be military sci-fi, which I enjoy.

    It should also be noted that her daughter is super-hot.

    Jus’ sayin’

  22. This current White House has shown the public by it’s words and actions that they are capable of using drones to murder civilians simply because that person may disagree with the president. Our president has said in a speech that he will “punish those who disagree” with him. Are we not to believe him when he’s already murdered American citizens who are out of this country without charges or a trial.

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