Drones have been spotted recently near JFK Airport in New York City. Authorities are searching for the offenders but haven’t found any suspects yet. On Sunday a man was caught flying his drone over Citizens Park in South Philadelphia. Apparently there was no way for security to know the drone was coming toward the stadium and they only managed to catch the man by watching where the drone landed. Consider this: What if this person were a disgruntled fan who wanted a particular player hurt? How hard would it be to simply fly the drone into the player? Without early warning there is no way to be prepared for these things.
In light of this most recent transgressions, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit some of the ways that drones have been misused. Note I say “misused” and not “used” because we at Drone Labs believe that drones pose a significant boon for humanity. Drones, quite literally, save lives when properly operated. We’ve made our position perfectly clear by being the only drone detection company to comment on FAA proposed rules for drones. In many ways we see ourselves as the garbage collectors of the drone community. While most drone pilots are law abiding people, we focus on the small percentage that want to violate the rules. Let’s look at some of those activities.
Photo credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai
Our tour of drone misuse begins with the idea of activism and terrorism. There are some legitimate activist activities that a drone could be used for but there are many, many more situations in which they are misused. In April, a drone with a radioactive payload landed on the roof of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office. While not rising to the level of a dirty bomb it was still a dangerous payload and was done by an activist. It’s just one small step from this to something really dangerous. Other activists is are using drones to harass and spy on businesses. Additionally, terrorists have started using drones to gather valuable intelligence on their enemies. There aren’t any publically documented instances of explosive material being attached to a drone as yet but it is just a matter of time.
Photo credit: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg/Getty
While I don’t consider this the most dangerous of activities it is certainly the most annoying. Drones being used to spy on people is pervasive. Currently the spying seems relegated to the rich and famous like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. There are concerns this could become an issue to the public at large. Again, this is definitely the least harmful of the bad drone activities but definitely very irritating. Fortunately these are the easiest threats to counter by simply being aware of the drone presence.
Photo credit: Saichon Srinuanchan , Bangkok Post
It’s pretty well established in our business that prisons are our best customers worldwide. By far the problem of drones being used to fly contraband to inmates is one of the better documented phenomenon concerning drone misuse. Ironically, the biggest problem doesn’t seem to be weapons or drugs, although there are plenty of both flown in with drones, but cell phones. They are quite valuable to inmates and can go for a very high price relative to other items.
Photo credit: Tijuana Municipal Police
Although it still appears to be very experimental, there are many known incidents of drones being used to smuggle drugs over the border in the United States. The good news is these kinds of drones are very easy for us to locate because any significant load requires a gas powered drone engine which is very loud (in an otherwise quiet area) so can even be caught with audio detection in some cases. Our experiments show that these gas powered drones show up like a lighted Christmas tree under thermal imaging. Spotting these is relatively easy.
Photo credit: (Yeah Boyy/YouTube)
So far this is fairly unique. I only know of one well-known incident where a drone was used to deface a billboard in New York. I know there have been some minor incidents but the one in New York is notable because it represents something far more terrible: modification of drones to do specialized criminal activity. In this case it was a drone outfitted with a spray can to paint on a billboard. What will we think when the same idea is used to spray a biological agent into the air? Don’t think it will happen? Think again.
Photo credit: Browning Media
So far all the incidents of this appear to be accidental but people being injured by drones is happening. It’s inevitable when you have a machine with propellers flying close to a crowd. Even reporters and musicians like Enrique Iglesias aren’t immune to this type of injury. Being able to injure someone by crashing a drone into them is a very real possibility. Imagine a scenario where a rider at, say, the Tour de France wants to eliminate or at least delay a rival. What better way than to have a drone fly into the rival’s bicycle?
Photo credit: screenshot from Efren Salinas video
Drone modifications are common these days and my personal favorite is the Millennium Falcon drone. However, there are some people and even companies who think making dangerous drones is a good idea. Seriously, it’s not a good plan to create a flame thrower drone or do any other dangerous modifications.
What we are seeing are the incremental steps toward real dangers. As the number or drone proliferate the amount of drone misuse will continue. Some states are passing laws to prohibit drone flight. The FAA has started down the path of drone certification and rules. We are in the nascent stages of the threat potential but can clearly see where this is headed. There are two ways to deal with the issue: strict punishments for pilots who intentionally misuse drones; and the use of technology to combat the threat.