I recently read an interesting article in the New Yorker magazine about the increasing domestic use of drones. Most of the articles I have read to date about drones have focused on their use on the battlefields of Afghanistan, and for finding and killing al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and Yemen.

However, there is a fast-growing demand for drones by a wide variety of organizations within the borders of the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol maintains a large fleet of Predator drones that they use to patrol the borders, and the organization has offered use of their drones to local police departments and other law enforcement organizations.

According to the article, earlier this year Congress passed a law that requires the FAA to put regulations in place by 2015 that will effectively open up U.S. skies to the unfettered use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for law enforcement, public safety, commercial, and scientific purposes. I fully expect the use of domestic drones to increase significantly once the FAA puts these regulations into place.

These machines are getting smarter, smaller, and more independent. According to Peter Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, “It used to be that an aerial surveillance plane had to fly close. Now sensors on a UAV can detect a milk carton from sixty thousand feet.”

I personally believe that the domestic use of drones has the potential to be a good thing for our nation. The small UAVs — some as small as a hummingbird — produced by companies like AeroVironment in Simi Valley, California are much more affordable for cash-strapped law enforcement agencies than are fleets of expensive manned helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

According to one observer noted in the New Yorker article, robots (including robotic UAVs) today have the intelligence of insects. If Moore’s Law holds true, then in seven years, robots will have the intelligence of rats.

It won’t be long before UAVs are able to independently carry out a variety of complex tasks without the need for human pilots or operators. It will be very interesting to watch this area of research evolve in the future.

I’m curious what you think about the domestic use of drones. Do you see it as a positive or a negative?

* * *

This week I will be having lunch with a good friend of mine, Bob Wertheim. Bob was an advisor to SAIC for many years and we served together on the Strategic Advisory Group in Omaha. Bob is a great guy, and I’m looking forward to finding out what he’s been up to lately.

* * *

I have been reading a lot lately. Some of my most recent books include City of Bonhane, The Life of Robert T. Lincoln, Capitol Murder, Alix and Nicky, and In the Garden of Beasts. If you have any recommendations for good summer reads, I would enjoy hearing about them.

– Bob


6 Responses to “Domestic Use of Drones, Lunch with a Friend, and Summer Reading”

  1. 1 Larry Janning

    Hi Dr. B! I’m a big supporter of the domestic use of small UAVs, and not just because we build them. A few months ago I mentioned our company, IonVentus, and our product – a disposable UAV for the battlefield. I think 20 years from now we’ll all have our own personal UAV (who would have thought 50 years ago we’d have a personal computer?). Our personal UAV will fly above us providing situational awareness: who is nearby that I know, is there a threat (CBRNE or other) that I need to take action for, what’s the fastest way out of this crowd, will I end up ahead if I switch lanes in this freeway, …

    UAVs are platforms for sensors, but I believe these platforms will change as well. We’re working on sensor platforms that don’t even look like airplanes. Since I know you like to think about technical challenges, I believe the biggest challenge we face is in power/propulsion – any ideas on how we can miniaturize these?

    As always it’s great reading your blogs!
    Take care!…

    Larry Janning

  2. 2 Tom Hicks

    Bob,

    I really enjoy your blog and look forward to your postings! I wanted to let you know that I have been following you on line for some time and have fond memories of our time together in the early days of SAIC.

    Also, my youngest, Bella has decided to attend the University of Michigan so I will be hanging around your old haunts. All the best to you and the family and please keep up the web site.

    Tom Hicks

  3. 3 Gil Binninger

    Bob:
    Recommend you add The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb by Philip Taubman to your summer reading list. The five warriors are: Sydney Drell, Kissinger, Bill Perry, Sam Nunn, and George Schultz. Mention is also made of Harold Brown and John Deutch.
    Well written, and with excellent reviews.
    Gil B

  4. 4 Dr. Beyster

    Gil: Thanks for the book recommendation. I will be sure to get it. — Bob

  5. 5 Dr. Beyster

    Larry: Long time no see. I hope things are going well for you in Dayton. I think about you every once in a while. We had some good times, didn’t we? I agree with you about UAVs — they’ve definitely had a big impact in Afghanistan and against targets in other countries. They are having an increasing impact domestically, too, as you are well aware. Whether or not everyone will someday have their own personal UAV is beyond me, but with the ongoing advancements in technology, I wouldn’t be surprised. It does sound a bit like James Bond, though. I will defer to your judgment there. I wish I had some advice for you in the area of power/propulsion, but I unfortunately am too far away from the problem now to be of any help to you. — Bob

  6. 6 Dr. Beyster

    Tom: It is good to hear from you — thanks for your post. We had wonderful times together at SAIC. I would like to invite you to join me for lunch sometime if you are available and in the area. I’ll ask Ralph to try to reach you and find out if that might be a possibility for you. Congratulations on your daughter Bella’s decision to attend the University of Michigan. I hope to attend the homecoming game in the fall. Maybe I’ll see you there. — Bob


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