Here's A Use Of Drones (Nearly) Everyone Will Like

from the eyes-in-the-sky dept

It seems like every other headline is about drones these days — drones being used in battle, drones being used by the police, drones as a threat to privacy. As we’ve noted before, it’s easy to get the impression that drones are inherently evil, and should be made illegal or something (good luck with that.) But drones are simply a new kind of technology, largely made possible by Moore’s Law and the dramatic reductions in size, weight and cost it has brought with it for electronic control devices. Like any other technology, drones can be used for all kinds of purposes, both good and bad. It’s just that we have heard mostly about the more dubious ones. To remedy that, here’s a heart-warming tale of how drones could tackle one of the most serious threats facing wildlife around the world: poaching.

Conservation group WWF has announced plans to deploy surveillance drones to aid its efforts to protect species in the wild, as the South African government revealed that 82 rhinos had been poached there since the new year.

WWF’s three-year project also involves combining data from unmanned aerial vehicles, cheap mobile phone technology tracking animal movements, and handheld devices carried by rangers, in a bid to outsmart often heavily armed poachers who bribe corrupt officials to avoid patrols and find wildlife.

This sounds like a brilliant use of technologies to solve several problems. The huge areas involved make it almost impossible for a few rangers to cover, but multiple drones flying high could easily do that. Similarly, using drones would avoid the dangers that rangers face on a daily basis when dealing with poachers prepared to shoot if discovered. Drones might even be used for more aggressive management of poachers — for example, safely disabling their vehicles. Given these and other benefits, it’s no wonder, then, that drones are being deployed for similar purposes around the world:

Drones are already being used by conservationists to monitor wildlife, such as orangutan populations in Sumatra, anti-whaling activists are using them against the Japanese whaling fleet, and a charity in Kenya recently beat its target of raising $35,000 in crowdfunding for a drone to protect rhinos and other wildlife in the country’s Laikipia district.

As well as using crowdfunding to pay for more of these drones, one interesting approach would be to apply crowdsourcing to help protect animals directly. If the live feeds from drones were available on a Web site for anyone to watch, it would be possible to monitor huge areas 24 hours a day by using online volunteers around the world who drop by to keep an eye on things for a while. If they spotted something suspicious, they could alert the Web site, which would pass on the information to the relevant rangers nearby who could take a look on their screens and, if necessary, on the ground.

This would help protect vulnerable animals, share the burden of monitoring them with drones, and help people around the world to become more engaged with conservation. Who could possibly have any problems with this kind of drone use — apart from the poachers, of course?

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Comments on “Here's A Use Of Drones (Nearly) Everyone Will Like”

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Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As a general rule, I don’t have a problem with drones replacing manned aircraft.

If we currently use manned aircraft for surveillance (as we do in lots of applications from forestry to border protection to military applications), then making the aircraft unmanned doesn’t really add any extra moral difficulties to me.

The same goes for armed drones. If it’s already okay to send in a bomber in some situation, I don’t see a moral problem with sending in an armed drone instead, especially if there really is a pilot making the targeting decision.

Oh, there may be practical problems for sure. But as a general rule, the morality of aerial surveillance or air strikes is the same whether the aircraft has a pilot physically in it or not.

One of the big problems with drone strikes as the US carries them out is that they are often used in places other than legitimate war zones. That’s a moral problem whether the drone is manned or not.

Eclecticdave (profile) says:

If the live feeds from drones were available on a Web site for anyone to watch, it would be possible to monitor huge areas 24 hours a day by using online volunteers around the world who drop by to keep an eye on things for a while

The best bit is we’re not just talking about a small group of altruistic animal-loving volunteers. This has the potential to be a 24-hour live wildlife program the likes of which David Attenborough can only dream about. Who wouldn’t want to check it out from time to time?

It could be that a would-be poacher wouldn’t be able to sneeze without a million people saying “bless you”!

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“He wanted to keep them armed though so we could do some USA type judicial punishment on the poachers :)”

Personally, I would love to see this case for use brought up in a question to Sarah Palin, just to watch her head twist and explode like a fembot as she tries to figure out which position she’s supposed to take….

iambinarymind (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I agree with Anonymous Coward. Unless these drones are being fully funded through private/voluntary means (without any government intervention/force involved), then I am wary of what may result from their implementation. If anything, it’d be a form of acclimation to the use of drones in the sky always watching.

On a side note, if we truly wants to help preserve endangered species, we should be advocating for individual property rights (rather than government regulation/legislation).

A big part of why some animals become endangered, especially with many types of fish populations being depleted, is due to what is termed the “tragedy of the commons”.

The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently, and solely and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will lower the yield a shared limited resource, even to the point of ultimately depleting it, even when it is clear that it is not in everyone’s short or long term interest for this to happen.

For further explanation on this topic, I highly recommend Robert P. Murphy’s article “Save the Bluefin Tuna through Property Rights”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You are absolute right, the best way to deal with a “commons” issue is to remove the “commons”. Maine lobstermen maintain a well controlled fishery thanks to a strong sense of property rights.

As for drones, the question is where we draw the line, politicians like to keep pushing, once we start with wide-ranging drone surveillance for any reason, the police state and 1984 soon follow. Its best to not start, not until our leaders can handle the power responsibly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why are people all upset about drones?

The real problem with drones is the level of detachment they bring. The same problem exists (ulterior motives aside) with red-light cameras or automated infringement notices. It is very disturbing when you have a person (or worse computer) far-removed, and unaware of the real consequences of their actions standing in judgment of you. If you are unwilling to personally take responsibility for your actions, and instead choose to act through a computer or some cold, unfriendly eye in the sky, then you should not do them. Sure drones may save money, maybe even save lives (when used in combat), but if you don’t want to risk your money or life on a cause, then you should not use a drone, nor should you go yourself, because its not worth doing if the risks outweigh the benefits. Drones should not be used to facilitate such otherwise irrational and irresponsible behavior.

BTW I’m the same anonymous coward (Ha! irony) who was replying about the commons earlier (just on a different computer)

JMT says:

Re: Re: Why are people all upset about drones?

“The real problem with drones is the level of detachment they bring. [clip] It is very disturbing when you have a person (or worse computer) far-removed, and unaware of the real consequences of their actions standing in judgment of you.”

Keep in mind it’s not the pilot of an aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, that is making the decision to fire a missile at a target. It’s a superior officer or officers who are quite likely just as far away from the action no matter what type of aircraft is being used. The pilot is following orders, whether they’re in a cockpit or a control room.

“If you are unwilling to personally take responsibility for your actions, and instead choose to act through a computer or some cold, unfriendly eye in the sky, then you should not do them.”

Apply that thinking to the actual decision-makers as opposed to the pilots, and the choice of manned or unmanned aircraft becomes far less relevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why are people all upset about drones?

Honestly, I was thinking more about law-enforcement uses, rather than military uses. Yes I agree that the pilot rarely makes decisions on his own, but I think it does add one more level of detachment from reality in any event.

Its not all about drones though, the problem exists with any automated surveillance equipment, especially when it also has the capacity for enforcement.

A policeman in his car, for instance, is unable and unwilling to chase down every speeder he sees, he chooses (hopefully) to only go after those that are endangering other drivers. However with the aid of a drone, he can easily mail a summons to anyone and everyone that the drone clocks over the speed-limit. Worse still, he doesn’t take personal responsibility, he doesn’t have to go through the effort of really seeing if someone is just going a little too fast, or is actually creating a hazard, it becomes automatic instead. If that’s not a hallmark of a police-state, I don’t know what is.

Not that I condone speeding of course, but I hope its a good example of how a drone can be abused.

OK, enough ranting for one day, I better go to bed before someone bans my ip.

Mr. Applegate says:

As long as you understand only the government can have drones all is well.

Just read this morning that Oregon is trying to make it illegal to put a camera on a drone, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, just for having the camera attached to the drone. If you actually fly the drone bump it up to 1 year.

Because, you know, you can trust big brother, but not your neighbor. Big brother would never do you wrong.

Ninja (profile) says:

We are using unmanned airplanes (both big and drone sized) here in Brazil to monitor environmental issues such as degrading of riparian vegetation, erosion, environmental crimes (in a partnership with the environmental police) and many others.

I’d go further and suggest that as drones get more capable of handling cargo they might become even more useful (both for good and for evil obviously). The fact that the Govt is using them for widespread surveillance is not the technology fault, it’s the Government that’s out of control. Blaming the drones is just silly.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

DoS vulnerability

Unfortunately, the idea of crowdsourcing click-to-report-a-poacher is doomed to failure. Besides spurious clicks from pranksters or by accident, sooner or later the poachers themselves will figure out to click to report poaching near vantage point 1, thereby creating a diversion, while they go poach something near vantage point 2.

Lord Binky says:

Make this like a game for the user. Keep a score for them, put in rankings, and assign hidden values like trust levels to help filter out the noise that you get from assholes clicking a tortoise as a poacher.

Also having to sacrifice at least one person for a diversion is not going to work as a long term strategy. Even then, if they figure out how to manipulate their alert system to add dummy threats, they don’t know which of the presently identified poachers will take priority. Crowd sourcing can easily pan out well for them.

Anne van Rossum (profile) says:

Law enforcement after all

If I am correct, this is a law enforcement task, so it is again police work. I think there are better uses of drones for now, for which reason our company created some ethical guidelines: One of our statements is “Helping, not harming!”. It is better to first develop technologies where we can help people, and consider them as victims, rather than searching for scenarios where we can identify perpetrators. People that drown at sea, early detection of forest fires, environmental monitoring, crowdsourcing journalism, etc.

PS: I am the PI of the Dutch project in which a group of companies and universities use drones to detect a fire as quick as possible.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Law enforcement after all

It is better to first develop technologies where we can help people, and consider them as victims, rather than searching for scenarios where we can identify perpetrators.

Why is that better than identifying animals or people who are victims and help them by intervening against the perpetrators of violence? Helping victims and identifying perpetrators are not mutually exclusive.

Little Brother says:

I’m disagree. Most of us are agreed that a drone circling over our stomping grounds recording what random citizens are doing is A Bad Thing. Our reasoning includes the argument that a judicially approved warrant should be required to surveil anyone and that the warrant should not be granted without a strong indication of probable guilt. So why is it okay to have a similar drone circling over the stomping grounds of folks who happen to live in a part of the world where animals are poached? Are those folks not deserving of the same judicial protection from unwarranted surveillance? If I have a right to be free of surveillance while out buying a jug of milk, then a South African in rhino territory picking berries for the family dinner has the same right. And the fact is that so do criminals here at home and poachers in South Africa, unless a legitimate warrant says otherwise. Protecting endangered animals is important, but not at the expense of human rights and freedoms.

Eclecticdave (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that drones should be deployed over or near populated areas. Perhaps you are underestimating the vast size of some of Africa’s National Parks?

Most of the areas we’re talking about here are generally already designated off-limits to unauthorised personnel, so if you’re spotted, you’re either poaching, or at least trespassing.

special interesting says:

Quote: ?Here’s A Use Of Drones (Nearly) Everyone Will Like?

Is that not just another ?do it for the children? luvy duvy argument? Find some obscure use for your new weapon of mass privacy abuse that everyone likes and make a supportive example of it. Then use the argument to blast through credible dissenting arguments.

Question to drone factory sales spokesperson: ?What privacy issues do you feel need to be worked on with respect to your products?? Answer: ?We have targeted and destroyed by missile fire 48 poachers in the last year by remote drone operations. We feel this is a positive effect and the privacy of the poachers is irrelevant.?

The concept of a factory representative firing upon whatever targets is not wild with some countries now considering a shoot on sight poacher laws. Lost are the privacy issues (and what else?) in the enforcement madness.

Am not a fan of regulation of any kind but nasty dangerous things need to have oversight. Not just wacky phrased loosely worded special interest influenced regulation but well written constitutionally correct laws. Evidence based judicially reviewed laws are the best explicitly making illegal shooting on suspicion.

Nasch, great comment. ?Lets face it, the only legitimate thing drones should be used for is target practice.?

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