Drones are coming to America in force! (Thanks to Congressional pushing.) So you’d better be ready for them. Here are 10 fun facts about drones from recent news and gleaned from attending a trade organization conference Wednesday. Members of the military spoke to an audience comprised mainly of drone industry folks about how they’re using “weapons that both look and shoot” abroad and how they hope to ease those drones’ transition into U.S. skies.
1. There could be 30,000 drones overhead in the U.S. by 2020, reports the Washington Times.
2. Reaper drones’ “unblinking stare” can currently take in a 4 kilometer by 4 kilometer area — about the size of Fairfax — but that will soon be expanded, said Air Force Lieutenant General Larry James, to a 10 kilometer by 10 kilometer stare, or two-thirds the size of Washington, D.C. They call this the “Gorgon Stare” — named for the terrifying females of Greek mythology, the best known being the snake-headed Medusa. No drones have the ability to turn you to stone with their gaze (yet).
3. There’s a fair amount of disagreement about what to call drones. The industry refers to them as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Though one manufacturer, MLB Company, which launched its business in the late 1990s when no one knew what a “UAV” was and associated “drones” only with Office Space, coined the name “spy planes” for the flying machines. The Air Force calls them RPAs (remote piloted aircraft) because “they aren’t unmanned; there are pilots involved,” protested one Air Force lieutenant general. When not talking about massive Predator type drones, but instead referring to the type you can fit in the trunk of your car, many call them sUAS (small unmanned air systems). Opponents meanwhile have coined the catchy “killer drones” to describe the not-so cuddly flying machines.
4. The surveillance industry wants drones to be more cuddly, though. In Britain, manufacturers have suggested painting drones bright colors as a way to make them seem friendlier and less reminiscent of war zones, reports The Guardian. Because Big Brother is a lot more appealing wearing hot pink, quips Slate.
5. To drone manufacturers, resistance is futile… but hilarious. California Congressman Buck McKeon, a proud member of the Unmanned Systems Caucus, gave a keynote hoorah at the AUSVI conference Wednesday morning. His speech lamenting cuts to the military budget over the last 50 years was interrupted by a middle-aged woman who rushed the stage saying, “We want spending on education, not war.” This got a few laughs from the hundreds of drone industry members in the audience. As she was physically lifted and carried off the stage, she chanted, “Stop killer drones.” That got some boos and even heartier laughs from the audience.
6. The Air Force has 65,000 – 70,000 people working to process all of the data and footage it’s currently collecting from drones. Lt. Gen. James says the analysts’ work includes “watching life in Afghanistan and looking for patterns,” and that a Rand review suggested they need 100,000 people devoted to the task. The military hope is that better computer algorithms and software analysis can be developed to combat their drowning in data.
7. Cape Canaveral is now a drone base. Since the space program is now on a death watch, it’s good to know they’ve found a way to repurpose this base. U.S. Customs and Border Protection flies drones on our northern, southern, and southeastern borders. The base previously used primarily to launch shuttles is now a drone practice spot and sends out a General Atomic Guardian drone to monitor the SE border and fly over the ocean to make drug busts.
8. The FAA Reauthorization Act calls for six drone test sites around the U.S. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security plans to launch a site in June — likely in the Southeast — devoted to testing drones for use by first responders (local and state police, firefighters, etc.). DHS is looking to provide funds to industry partners so they can bring their drone technology in for test drives. This is how they will ensure that drones are safe for use — and have mastered the “sense and avoid” features that are so important to the FAA, so that a drone doesn’t fly into a plane engine or crash into a home — and how drones will more easily be making their way to your local police station.
9. The Coast Guard thinks that drones will increase their prosecutions by 95%. Coast Guard Captain Chris Martino says the Coast Guard is currently restricted in its use of drones, and has to partner with the Navy to use theirs, but projects that integrating unmanned vehicles into the Coast Guard’s array of tools will increase their surveillance of U.S. waters by 70%, meaning they’ll catch (and prosecute) far more drug runners, among others.
“The 20th century was the era of manned aircraft; the 21st Century is the era of unmanned aircraft,” said Martino.
10. Drones can tase you, bro.