Unmanned News

Well, at least they ended on a positive note. I’m referring to a story CNN did on DIYDrones.com, one of my Internet hangouts. As I said, in the end they spoke of a few of the positive contributions that autonomous aerial drones make to society, but only after they vilified them as tools for terrorists. The operant thinking being that if something might be used by terrorists it is, by definition, bad. Well, terrorists use cars, airplanes, forks and spoons, and I’m sure that hand tools enter into this somewhere as well.  Considering that the battle cry against terrorism is “don’t let them interrupt or change you,” the media just can’t resist calling us all to shudder under ominous threat. But CNN got it terribly wrong from the get go, asserting that drone hobbyists like me got our technology from the military. To the contrary, the opposite is true. Modelling went to the military as it was pointed out that the military could benefit from what had gone from a toy to commercial use as a surveillance method.

The thing is that drones are cool. They represent a futuristic approach we associate with science fiction and the leading edge of technology. These things are a geek’s delight from top to bottom. But there is really little difference between the aerial and ground versions of telepresence devices. That’s really all these devices are; beyond being an educational exercise as we work towards perfecting our flying and crawling machines. While CNN focuses on the aerial version of drones, wheeled and tracked devices are also members of the family as are boats and hovercraft. Just about anything one can apply an autopilot to is a member of the family really, right down to your Roomba robotic vacuum or pool cleaner. We have been incorporating the various elements of drones into other technologies as well. Cars that park themselves or at least warn of obstacles are direct descendants of the autonomous device hobby. Your cell phone knowing its orientation and adjusting the screen is yet another example resulting from experimenting with accelerometers, although the whole GPS mapping thing is indeed a military spin off into civilian realms.

It is easy to question whether or not such devices should be allowed in the hands of regular people. But at the base of it all is the question of whether we should mute development and technological improvement on the basis of less than reasonable fears.  Could a terrorist use a drone to fly an explosive charge into a building? Yes. Would it be a very big charge? No. Could someone with a rented van filled with explosives and a smarthphone with Google maps deliver a much worse blow more reliably and cheaply? You betcha.  So shouldn’t we see a CNN program that focuses on the potential terror of the Ford Aerostar that ends with, by the way, soccer moms will love it?  If CNN is going to monger fear, what should it make of the idea that the less said, the less likely they’d give a copy cat a dreadful goal to aspire to?

Of course, I’m absolutely certain that I am approaching this issue in an objective and pragmatic way, no matter that I am a robotics enthusiast, especially when it comes to making different things operate without human intervention. I obviously have no prejudice when it comes to the subject so my opinion is important enough that it should be yours as well. Or, you could just think about it for a moment. I suspect that the producers of the CNN article had a hand in those Chucky movies where a doll comes to life with homicidal consequences. It’s just me maybe, but I liked it better when news was written by the likes of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite than I do  Stephen King and Dean Koontz.