We walked the halls and navigated the booths at 2013 CES to share some of the most interesting privacy-impacting tech products. Today’s topic: drones, small flying robots with plenty of cool–and creepy–uses.
Primarily used by the military at first, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have expanded into civic and commercial spheres, doing everything from surveillance, firefighting, border patrols, and research. Their surveillance powers are quite significant: many carry facial recognition cameras, thermal imaging detectors, license plate scanners, WiFi sniffers, and other sensors.
But drones aren’t just for government employees or scientists anymore: now regular people can own them. We saw a demo of Parrot’s AR Drone 2.0 at CES. At just under 2 feet long and under 5 pounds, the drones can hover in midair, do flips, and maneuver smoothly while carrying a stabilized video camera on board. Owners can control them with iOS and Android apps.
Four drones did a choreographed mini air show to music, which we must admit was one of the coolest things at CES. It really is the stuff of science fiction, and it’s available to anyone for $300.
Although the number of drones has skyrocketed in the past few years, laws haven’t addressed the privacy implications of having the skies filled with tiny data-collecting robots. Can someone fly a drone over your yard and record video of what you’re up to? Can the police send drones in to photograph everyone at a public protest? It’s hard to say without clear legislation.
For now, privacy advocates like the ACLU and EPIC are pushing for more government transparency about their use of drones and greater privacy protections for innocent civilians, but as more privately-owned drones fly around the neighborhood, we may be entering a new era of private and public surveillance.
What’s your take on drones: fun, scary, or both?