Drones

Covered at Reason 24/7: Drone Companies Worried About Cultural Backlash

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Not every drone is trying to kill you or spy on you on behalf of a nosy government agency. Unfortunately for the companies that make these other drones, the growing public discontent over the potential misuse of the unmanned aircraft may end up spilling over in areas where there probably is no real opposition.

Via the Associated Press:

The civilian unmanned aircraft industry worries that it will be grounded before it can really take off because of fear among the public that the technology will be misused. Also problematic is a delay in the issuance of government safety regulations that are needed before drones can gain broad access to U.S. skies.

Some companies that make drones or supply support equipment and services say the uncertainty has caused them to put U.S. expansion plans on hold, and they are looking overseas for new markets.

"Our lack of success in educating the public about unmanned aircraft is coming back to bite us," said Robert Fitzgerald, CEO of The BOSH Group of Newport News, Va., which provides support services to drone users.

Drone manufacturers point out that even in the hands of law enforcement agents, their products have a legitimate use in helping in rescue efforts and other activities that don't have the potential to violate citizen privacy. Their arguments would probably have more traction if law enforcement agencies at all levels of government weren't constantly looking for excuses to bypass the Fourth Amendment.

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  1. Most drone use in the military is recon — for every combat drone mission, there are some 20-30 missions that are related to gathering intel in areas where we have little of it. (When I was a drone jockey, that’s all I did actually — combat is a relatively new function for drones.) This intel saves lives — both military and civilian lives, on both sides. I am wary of the use of drones in law enforcement, and there are serious ramifications with our policy vis a vis targeted assassinations, but we are much better off with drones in the military (especially US Army and USAF) than without them.

    1. Easy fix. Disarm the drones. Anyone worth killin’ is worth killing the old fashioned way.

      1. Killing people the “old fashioned way” in Pakistan’s tribal areas has resulted in some estimated 20,000-30,000 dead (see war in NW Pakistan), many of them civilians. US armed forces would no doubt do better than the Pakis at managing casualties, but even so the casualty rates would be orders of magnitude greater than the casualty rate we have with current policy.

        Combat drones really are the best option for the types of mission they are assigned to do. The appropriate question IMO is whether or not we should be engaging in those theaters and to what extent.

        1. even so the casualty rates would be orders of magnitude greater than the casualty rate we have with current policy

          Yup. It might cause us to reassess our policy and decide that whatever is going on there isn’t worth our intervention.

          1. That’s a stupid reason to intentionally cripple our ability to effectively fight a war. You are essentially saying that we should intentionally raise the human costs of war in the hope that people will look at what’s going on and stop it. How is this not different from the people who said we need to re-institute the draft to make sure that the war in Iraq ends quickly?

            As long as we’re waging a war (ill-advised or no), we should be accomplishing objectives with as little cost to life and liberty as possible.

            1. This is a legitimate concern though: those who vote to make war nowadays have never seen the fucking elephant. Their children and their friend’s and neighbor’s children never end up on the wrong end of incoming fire, never see friends bleeding or blown to pieces. They know nothing of war.

              George Bush kept the Gulf War limited because George Bush spent four hours in a rubber raft waiting on the lifeguard submarine to show up. George W Bush had no problem with a massive invasion and nation building operation because the jet fighters he flew never ended up getting deployed to SE Asia.

              1. Ronald Reagan never served, yet he kept the invasion of Granada limited in scope.

                Vietnam may have lasted less time than the war in Iraq, but it also had a much higher body count.

                What you’re saying has merit, but what it comes down to is a trade-off. In my book, a hypothetical (and improbable) epiphany on the part of civilian discretion vis a vis foreign policy just doesn’t compare to the horror of intentionally subjecting people to the horrors of war when such can be avoided.

                1. Ronald Reagan never served *overseas*, is what I meant. My bad.

                2. Reagan was in some kind of mickey mouse REMF unit. He was in uniform, but he never left CONUS.

                  It’s not so much an epiphany on the populace as a whole, but the calculus by the shot callers in the national security system. Killing a low level accused AQ guy is much more likely to get done if they can do it without risking American lives, regardless of how necessary it is to kill the guy, or the amount of civilians that drone fired missile will kill along with it.

                  It’s just too easy to fire missiles at every guy who occasionally talks to a known AQ member on a cell phone.

                  I think a good comparison is the turn of the century South, after Wilson and Birth of a Nation really spurred Klan membership. There were plenty of guys who spoke to Klan members, knew Klan members, went to church or ball games with Klan members. Does that mean everyone in the South was a Klan member?

                  1. Reagan was in some kind of mickey mouse REMF unit. He was in uniform, but he never left CONUS.
                    His interview with Bobby Shaftoe deserved some sort of award for valor, though.

                  2. I think that problem can and should be corrected legislatively either by revising the AUMF on which the WoT is premised, or by explicitly limiting use of combat drones.

              2. This is a legitimate concern though: those who vote to make war nowadays have never seen the fucking elephant.

                Like John McCain for instance?

                Bush I didn’t invade IRQ itself in 1991 because he didn’t want the coalition to break up, as there was a shit-ton of cleanup work to be done in Kuwait after what the Iraqis did there. Not because he was in WW2.

                Fucking Ike was the one who started our involvement in the Vietnam war for God’s sake.

                1. I didn’t make the opposite claim Tulpa. But build your strawman, and place him on the pyre.

                  Ike as President had an incredibly restrained foreign policy compared to both his predecessors and successors. See for example his refusal to get involved in Suez. His support for the French in Vietnam was limited to support, not actual combat.

                  1. John McCain voted for war; John McCain fought in war and has a much more harrowing story than GHWB to tell of the result of his service.

                    So yes, this pretty much blows your point out of the water.

                    There ARE some chickenhawks out there for sure, but don’t pretend that people who’ve been in war are less likely to vote for war. I won’t mention the glimmering example from history to avoid invoking that rule.

                    1. Other then John McCain, who else?

                      Jesus fucking Christ if I say that the ocean is made salt water, are you going to jump up and down and scream about atolls, and whales, and kelp and fucking plankton.

                      Fine, for Tulpa the fucking autistic:

                      those who vote to make war nowadays are composed in overwhelming percentages of people who have never seen the fucking elephant

                  2. His support for the French in Vietnam was limited to support, not actual combat.

                    Leading from behind! And of course JFK served in WW2 as well.

                    1. JFK was an incompetent boob who would have been court martialed and shot if there were any justice in the world. He lost his command and got his men killed. In a more civilized age, he would shot himself to spare his family the shame.

            2. As long as we’re waging a war (ill-advised or no), we should be accomplishing objectives with as little cost to life and liberty as possible.

              Is that like ‘as long as you’re getting raped, you might as well lie back and enjoy it’? Because some of us think a good objective to accomplish would be to get the government to stop running all over the globe killing people.

              War is pretty much all about depriving people of life and liberty – helping government achieve its’ objectives as painlessly as possible is not necessarily a good thing. Saying that we should help in this ill-advised or no is borderline psychopathic. You seriously think it matters less that the war is justified than that it be done as easily as possible? Because why? Because it makes it far more likely that we’re going to wind up in some permanent state of war.

        2. I always worry that drone war takes us toward the Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon” I don’t want American soldiers dying, but drones decrease the cost (social, fiscal, life) for us continuing to be at war, which is not all that great.

          1. Maybe, but they exist. Nothing can be done about that, and I see no reason to hobble ourselves or to let less liberty-sensitive people set the rules for drone use going forward.

            Better to come to grips with drones and the scope of our counterterrorism operations (or better yet, develop a moral view wrt other people’s lives) than to discard a very useful and live-saving technology.

            1. Put another way, combat drones would be useful even under a Ron Paul-style vision of national defense. The trick is to arrive at the appropriate view of national defense and to use our resources and tech appropriately.

              1. Oh, I completely agree. One could argue that better field medicine lowered the human cost of going to war. I’ll always be conflicted when technology further distances people from the (justified or unjustified) harm that they inflict on others.

                Drones are a valuable technology and as you said, the genie is out of the bottle anyway.

        3. There is a real concern though, that the lack of risk to an American pilot and a very expensive airframe makes the cost of drone missions from a political, cultural, and economic standpoint lower then if the same mission was flown via manned aircraft.

  2. Yeah UAVs are going to be a huge boon for society, especially once we get to the point of having autonomous drones instead of the ones we have now which are remotely piloted. I doubt people will ever be comfortable flying on an aircraft with no pilot, but cargo doesn’t notice that there isn’t a pilot.

    1. Planes like commercial airliners practically do fly themselves. The pilot is there for the unexpected. Like when the engines ingest a bunch of birds and the plane needs to be ditched into a river. Computer programs can only react to the specific scenarios for which they are programmed. As someone who writes software, I’d rather have a person there because you can’t plan for the unexpected, by definition.

      1. You got your known unknowns, and your unknown unknowns.

      2. Planes like commercial airliners practically do fly themselves. The pilot is there for the unexpected.

        Sorry, but this is bullshit.

        Flight automation covers just a small part of a pilot’s job.

        1. The pilots are there to use their judgment and intelligence to do tasks that the very-mini-AIs running the plane are incapable of doing — yet.

          Computers have taken over the route optimization function. They will take over other functions as the technology advances.

          1. wrong.

            The autopilot is just a fancy version of cruise control — they both just reduce the need of the pilot/driver to fiddle with the controls.

            The pilot/driver is always fundamentally responsible for the operation of the vehicle.

            1. And AIs could be a VERY fancy version of cruise control, that could take over all the functions of pilots.

              It’s like you’re arguing that computerized stock trading can’t exist, because computers are just fancy versions of abacuses.

              Machines can do some things better than humans. Over time, they will continue to expand the range of things they are better at.

              1. I am complaining about the wide spread perception that existing commercial aircraft are flown with automation handling almost all the duties of the pilot. This is pure bullshit.

                The flight control computer relieves the pilot of the need to constantly fuss with the stick, wheel, pedals, trim wheels, and throttles.

                The flight management computer relieves the pilot of the need to constantly monitor position, altitude, heading, and velocity to decide when to fuss with the stick, wheel, pedals, trim wheels, and throttles.

                There is no automation that decides when to extend/retract the flaps and slats or the landing gear.

                There is no automation that replaces the continuous radio communication between the crew and the air traffic control system (although the industry is trying really hard to get to a semi-automated system).

                We are decades away from any kind of real-time trajectory negotiation with the ground systems that control the national airspace and decide where each of the thousands of airborne aircraft are supposed to be at any given point in time.

                Note, that this just covers the actual flying of the aircraft. There are dozens of electrical and hydraulic systems on the aircraft that are controlled by switches on the overhead panel — all of them totally under the manual control of the flight crew.

                So fuck off with the “someday AI will be good enough meme”. We are not there. We won’t be there in my lifetime, or my kids lifetime, or my grandkids lifetime.

                1. There is no automation that replaces the continuous radio communication between the crew and the air traffic control system (although the industry is trying really hard to get to a semi-automated system).

                  Sorry, but APDLC already does this. I used it all the time crossing the Atlantic flying C-17s. The C-17 did not have as advanced flight management systems as commercial airliners, and even then ALL the pilot had to do was raise the landing gear and retract flaps then set the airplane on autopilot. Sadly, the production C-17s were not equipped with autoland systems for zero-visibility landings, else all you would have to do is drop the gear and apply the breaks.

                  In regards to the management of overhead switches, the computer generally did all that automatically, and only advised the crew when there was an abnormality. Even then, most checklists just advised to verify the correct position of switches, if not correct, set switch to correct setting.

        2. Flight automation covers just a small part of a pilot’s job.

          This. Do you know how much time is dedicated to pinching stewardesses?

          1. US or Asian carriers. The union crew on most US carriers is not worth the effort.

              1. Not even close to the real thing 😉

      3. At some point if we get AIs that are intelligent and resourceful enough to handle the emergency functions, it could be feasible to ditch the human pilots. But if we get to that point of AI development, then all of society is gonna be transformed.

  3. Of course the drone companies are worried about backlash, and rightly so. They haven’t even bothered to suggest legitimate civilian uses to the public. They know there is no market for aerial surveying, traffic reporting, or disaster relief.

    1. Traffic reporting is much more cheaply done with a network of CCTV cameras on major arteries.

    2. One of the problems is that there is a hobbyist market that’s fearing their wings will be clipped by sweeping drone bans.

      How long have RC plane enthusiasts been putting small CCD cameras on their planes? That activity may be banned.

    3. Huh? There are small drones available to the public now.

      There isn’t a civilian market for Predator-sized drones the same way there isn’t a civilian market for nuclear subs. The cost is so high that only the people with big missions can afford it (which in this case is the govt).

      1. I think it depends on what we call a “drone”.

        Hollywood uses helicopters with gyroscopic-mounted cameras to get flyover shots that previously weren’t possible without actually getting in a full-sized helcopter and flying at super-low altitudes.

        These are very expensive, but not federal government-level expensive.

  4. Maybe they should paint the fronts of the drones like seseme street charactor faces. With cutes sayings painted on the side like “me want cookie” or “me love elmo”.

  5. Here we go.

    Once again, liberals get concerned about drones for exactly the wrong reasons.

    They don’t seem to be concerned about how government uses them, but that this thing with a propeller, a receiver, some servos and some wires and a CCD camera is evil.

    1. The problem isn’t removing the pilot from inside an airplane. The problem is the government agents controlling the drone airplanes.

      Drones in and of themselves are innocuous.

    2. They’re primitive beings dude, honestly. They’re scared of things, inanimate objects.

    3. http://www.amazon.com/Remote-C…..008FUBBDC/

      I need this. And an attractive neighbor who sunbathes topless in the backyard…

  6. We already have idiot local sheriffs and PD’s buying tanks and APC’s. Drones are gonna be another irressistable status symbol for junior hitlers. Plus they will be paid for with Federal grant money, wait and see.

  7. Drones are wonderful in that the reduce the human cost of intervening in dangerous situations.

    The problem is that this also reduces the political cost of intervening in contraversial situations.

    1. That pretty much sums it up. It’s a similar story as with Tasers. Intended to make existing violent acts less destructive, but it turns out to just encourage more violent acts.

  8. Who makes all of these drones, anyhow? Do I own any drone stock?

    1. Who makes all of these drones, anyhow?

      Koch industries. Duh.

      1. Oh, of course. How silly of me!

        I don’t think I hold any of their stock, sadly, though I’m on their payroll as a paid libertarian commenter. I’m actually a neo-Maoist, but I need the financial crack the Koch’s dole out.

  9. “Cultural backlash?” I told you drones were just a cultural issue, a distraction from the Real Issues Facing the Country!

  10. We’ll be more comfortable with drones or most UAVs when smaller anti-drone laser/EM systems become widely available.

  11. Um yeah, you know DIY drones are becoming a hip thing, so I doubt this is going to be a problem.
    There’s a huge hobbist community building quadcopters and RC planes, and they look much like the military kind.

    http://www.diydrones.com

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