Unmanned aerial combat vehicles were invented by militaries for surveillance, air strikes, bomb detection, hostage negotiation, training and target practice.
World War 1 saw the use of unmanned torpedoes and by the Vietnam war drones were used to limit pilot deaths in hostile territory.
In the 80’s the US military began investing heavily into the use of drones. The first predator drone, a UAV with anti-tank missiles was created in the mid 90’s and has been in use since. Over 3 dozen countries and many terrorist groups use drones today.
(Estimates provided via Wikipedia)
Afghanistan: 13,072 strikes, 300-909 civilians dead, 4,126-1,769 total dead, 66-184 children dead.
Somalia: 202 strikes, 12-97 civilians dead, 1,197-1,410 total dead, 1-13 children dead.
Pakistan: 430 strikes, 424-969 civs dead, 1,020-1,389 total dead, 172-207 children dead.
Yemen: 336 strikes, 910-2,200 civs dead, 8.858-16,901 total dead, 283-454 children dead.
There have been various criticisms brought about with the use of modern day drones.
Drones result in excessive collateral damage. David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum wrote in the NYT that drone strikes have only killed about 14 military leaders.
Since drones are unmanned they create the illusion of killing being “safe” which removes agency from military operators and allows the US government to stay in a perpetual state of war.
Law professor Rosa Brooks argues that drones threaten international rule of law because they are difficult to place in legal categories and they change the meaning of important legal concepts like “self-defense”, “militant combatant”, and “armed conflict” amongst others. UAVs also put into question the international law of concept of imminence where the law requires the US to have concrete knowledge of an impending attack on US territory and the US justifies their attacks using UAVs.
Drones can also overstep the boundaries of privacy by allowing users or owners to take pictures or surveil targets without their knowledge or consent. For example, officers of the law are not permitted to enter a resident’s home without a warrant. However, there is currently no legislation that prevents drones from being used in such scenarios. This is an infringement on societal privacy rights and if the government were to move forward with using drones on citizens that would be a violation of the fourth amendment.
In addition, regular citizens can do the same if they so choose to take photos of residents without their permission or knowledge and in the digital age these photos can potentially be shared.
Drones may also pose a threat to the public when it comes to safety in that UAVs can cause accidents to other aircrafts, buildings, and pedestrians on the ground floor. In such cases, who bears the responsibility of damages?
Lastly, drones have provided a new means for criminal activity to occur at a larger scale. Cartels and dealers are able to discreetly deliver their products to prisoners and customers without the risk of repercussions.
While drones did start with violent intentions, the rise of technology has seen the birth of commercial drones which has brought many benefits to modern society. One such usage has been the safety of journalists when war reporting. Warzones are volatile and unsafe, at any moment death is only one wrong step away. The use of drones has allowed photographers to get shots of war torn areas with less risk than ever before.
Commercial drones have been in use since 2006 and have provided several new ideas in commercial distribution.
Retailers such as Amazon have also been testing the functionality of package delivery via drones. The idea here is that a customer would purchase a product and a drone would be dispatched immediately to the resident, or customer’s GPS, and a QR code would be used to validate the purchase. The drone would safely unload the package to the customer and head back to the warehouse.
The current issue at hand for retailers is government regulation around the safety of drone delivery, but it offers a large potential for delivery service in the future and potentially an improvement on saving emissions.
This same principle could apply to the future of healthcare in that it would allow patients to get prescriptions delivered to their homes in a timely manner. There would no longer be a need to wait at a pharmacy to get refills and for many incapable or elderly patients it would allow them to receive the care they need without the risk of leaving their homes. Patients in hard to reach places could also be serviced, further expanding healthcare’s outreach to those that have not had access before.
According to Forbes in an article about a study conducted by the European Heart Journal, the study explored the delivery of automated external defibrillators to help out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients. There was a 92% successful delivery rate, and the study also found that there was a time benefit in cases where the drone arrived first before medical responders.
As of today, the negatives appear to outweigh the positives of drones as many uses are still in their infancy and are subject to regulation and ethical compliance before they are ready to be unleashed in society. However, in the future the benefits do have a lot of promise. As with most technology the usefulness of drones will be decided by convenience, profits, and legislation.
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