Drones. The name is enough to make me shudder.
Between the drone strikes the United States military has been running in Pakistan and Yemen — which have killed almost 1,000 civilians, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism — and the Charlottesville City Council recently taking a far-reaching step in banning drones in the city because of privacy, this new technology of unmanned aerial vehicles has become a hot topic and certainly raises concerns for both its domestic and international future use.
However, drones can provide some domestic benefits that have gone unnoticed.
The U.S. has 63 registered domestic drone operators in the country receiving funds from the U.S. Defense Agency; one of these is Virginia Tech’s Unmanned Systems Laboratory.
Kevin Kochersberger, the director of Tech’s Unmanned Systems Laboratory, explained how the idea of drones in the U.S. has been wrongly compared with international uses of drones, using his lab’s work as an example.
“When people refer to drones, they immediately think of weaponized, unmanned vehicles,” Kochersberger said. “That couldn’t be farther from what we do at the lab.”
According to Kochersberger, his lab, as well as other labs throughout the country, is working on building drones for purposes such as search and rescue, tending to crops, monitoring wetlands for climate change and even delivering packages commercially.
As Kochersberger cleared up my perceptions on drone operation in this country, it occurred to me that the current controversy on drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen lies with the illegal war crimes of U.S. Defense rather than the technology itself.
Kochersberger stated that while the agency might ask his lab to build an autonomous vehicle in exchange for grant money, what the U.S. makes the vehicle do is determined exclusively by the Department of Defense.
Drones themselves are not a way to target civilians internationally; rather, they are a tactic susceptible to critique for targeting civilians, especially when depicted by the U.S. Defense’s drone practices abroad.
However, the question remains whether any legitimate concern of drone use exists domestically, as the Charlottesville City Council has clearly expressed in its legislation, if drones themselves are not the problem.
Kochersberger said these concerns deal with extreme hypotheticals.
“There are legitimate concerns of privacy if one conjures up the absolute worst-case extreme examples of how (drones) can be used,” Kochersberger said.
However, there is only so much we can do to predict and prevent issues we might run into with drone use in the future.
For now, though, the benefits drones can provide domestically outweigh any possible risks.
Law enforcement should do their best to establish specific parameters of its drone use, especially when used to investigate crimes, but when used to minimize the harm of legal tasks performed by humans, drones can certainly work themselves into a critical role in our society.