This article, written by Chris Cole and Jim Wright, was originally published in January 2010
What are Drones?
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS), also known as drones, are aircraft either controlled by ‘pilots’ from the ground or increasingly, autonomously following a pre-programmed mission. While there are dozens of different types of drones, they basically fall into two categories: those that are used for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes and those that are armed with missiles and bombs.
The use of drones has grown quickly in recent years because unlike manned aircraft they can stay aloft for many hours (Zephyr a British drone under development has just broken the world record by flying for over 82 hours nonstop); they are much cheaper than military aircraft and they are flown remotely so there is no danger to the flight crew.
Military drone manufacturers are looking for civilian uses for remote sensing drones to expand their markets and this includes the use of drones for domestic surveillance. Drones will no doubt make possible the dramatic expansion of the surveillance state. With the convergence of other technologies it may even make possible machine recognition of faces, behaviours, and the monitoring of individual conversations. The sky, so to speak, is the limit.