Domestic Use of Drones, Lunch with a Friend, and Summer Reading

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?

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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.

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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