If you had to make a list of some of the most controversial topics of the last few years, drones would undoubtedly be right at the top. Even when you take their use by the United States government out of the equation, they’ve quickly grown from novelty item to a privacy concern in a relatively short amount of time.
Drones may have started as a way for amateur aircraft enthusiasts to have fun on a sunny afternoon, but those days are long over. Because you can easily attach high-definition cameras to drones (indeed, most come with those cameras built right in), they’re perfect for capturing stunning aerial photography… or for peeking into your neighbor’s backyard at a safe distance. Because drones are so powerful, they’ve also been quite controversial because of the way that they can potentially interfere with the flight paths of commercial aircraft.
In an effort to help address these types of issues and to combat the use of drones in organized crime, one company from Brisbane, Australia, has created a new product that can quickly disable and control drones after they’ve entered a defined airspace. While this product is designed to help increase public safety, it’s clear that we’re now walking an even finer line in terms of privacy than ever before.
EPE Australia: What You Need to Know
Warwick Penrose, the managing director at EPE Australia, told industry leaders at the annual World of Drones Congress in August that his company’s new product was mainly designed to stop criminal organizations that use drones to conduct counter-surveillance on authorities. He said that in recent years, more and more criminals are using drone technology to try to look at how police may be mobilizing against them, giving them an opportunity to act accordingly and avoid capture.
This may sound like something out of a spy movie, but it happens more than you would think. Earlier in 2017, an international criminal syndicate attempted to use a drone to identify any police operations that may have been watching their meetings. Though they were busted smuggling $30 million worth of cocaine into the Port of Melbourne anyway, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.
Combating would-be drone Peeping Toms is also a priority, as reports are growing more frequent that people are regularly using consumer-level drones to spy on people without their knowledge. Once a defined airspace has been created using the product, any drone that flies into it would be “fair game.” Someone with EPE Australia’s technology could easily disable the drone permanently or even totally take control of it, bringing it in for a landing and collecting as much information from it as possible about the owner. Currently, the technology can detect and mitigate drones at a distance of up to 5 kilometers — and it does so WITHOUT relying on the technology that forms the foundation of other drone capture systems like electronic mitigation or radio-jamming techniques.
Penrose said that, when used properly, his company’s technology can address a few different needs all at the same time. For starters, it immediately becomes a viable way to protect certain critical infrastructure assets — including airports — from drone attacks. Military organizations around the world have also been searching for a way to detect and mitigate drone use for year. He insists that his company is trying to think about ways that we can collectively protect airspace, but there are certain implications that are hard to ignore.
If the police have this technology, that’s one thing — but what happens if it should fall into the wrong hands? Coordinated drone attacks might become easier, not harder, to say nothing of what might happen should this product become commercially available.
Though it will be some time before this technology is “ready for prime time,” so to speak, it’s still an important development to watch. Certainly, it’s an interesting new layer to an active discussion about whether or not drones are a good thing, especially as far as our collective right to privacy is concerned.