Every now and then mankind invents a new version of the proverbial double-edge sword, something that could be favorable or unfavorable. Drones are the latest version. Some technology geeks will see them as another cool way to make money or have fun. Others will see them as one more invasion of privacy in a world that increasingly feels like everybody is being watched by somebody somewhere.
Drone used to mean to me the sound from the extra eight or nine strings on Ravi Shankar’s sitar. Or perhaps the monotonous verbiage of street repairs discussions at a city council meeting. The naturalist in me knows drone is the name for male bees.
Now, drone also means unmanned aerial vehicle, according to the dictionary.
An unmanned aerial vehicle used to mean for me a small plastic helicopter with a remote control. I can still see the Christmas season salesman sending one sailing upwards in the atrium of the Metro North Shopping Center.
We bought a couple.
One crashed into the ceiling. Another may still be stuck in the walnut tree out back.
Then things advanced.
Last year, I saw a couple of guys sitting on the hood of their pickup flying one at Platte Landing Park in Parkville, Mo. It was small and probably a relatively inexpensive one, as drones go, but it was big enough to give someone a pretty good whacking if it fell on them.
So I feel somewhat like an old, sky-is-falling, fuddy duddy. But then the pragmatist in me is worn out on new hassles and controversies in life.
Complexity ceases to be fun.
Proponents will say drones will save farmers money by letting them check on crops and livestock. This is just what farmers need, another piece of machinery to break down. I guess feet, eyeballs and pickup trucks are too old fashioned for the brave new world.
Other businesses need them, too, advocates say.
Of course, with these drones the commercial and hobby aspect, for now, rests on the fact that they can be outfitted with cameras. Computers and cameras and modern lens making have given us the remarkable ability to transmit images, as well as operate an unmanned aerial vehicle from your basement or bunker.
One more camera, that’s just what we need.
You can get a Spy Drone with a high definition camera off eBay for $52.95. Or on the eBay there’s the ready to fly, camera included, ProSearch XLF for $14,999. You could drop on down to the Octocopter drone with camera gimbal for $13,000.
A recent Internet folk hero was born in Kentucky, when a man used his shotgun to drop a drone from the sky that had been hovering in his backyard. He felt it was peeking in on his teenage daughters who were lounging by the pool. He’s fighting charges of property destruction in court. His supporters are many.
That’s the trouble with technology.
For every useful use for something new, there are five or six dastardly individuals up to no good. The internet puts mountains of useful information at our fingertips, but it also put mountain ranges of dangerous garbage within easy reach of our children.
Drones outfitted with missiles are killing the United States’ terrorist enemies on the other side of the world, which is good I guess. But I dread when the bad guys get outfitted with them.
I don’t expect bad guys to obtain the firepower employed by the U.S. military, but their use of improvised explosive devices has been sadly impressive. Make such things illegal on U.S. soil and the black market will supply them, anyway.
For now, opposition to drones in the U.S. is mostly about nuisance situations, like firefighting aircraft in the west being grounded for fear drones flying over wildfires will cause a crash of an aircraft with people on board. You would think that with Kansas City International Airport being located in Platte County, someone has discussed the problem of a rogue or foolish high flyer causing some sort of problem above our soil.
But folks are looking at delivering pizzas and net-ordered merchandise with them. I remember when cell phones seemed like a novelty.
Perhaps someday drones in the sky buzzing about the city or the countryside won’t seem anymore unusual than the cawing crows. But I don’t look forward to that day.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.