By Harley L. Sachs
If you travel to England these days you will be under police
surveillance, but you knew that. London is reputed to have about
45,000 surveillance cameras. Some of the video clips were broadcast in
the follow-up to the London subway bombings. Sifted out of millions of
frames of video, the clips showed the bombers doing their practice
runs, etc. But now the British cops have another tool, the AR100B
surveillance flying drone made by the AirRobot company.
The AR100B is about the size of an automobile hub cap, is battery
operated, and comes equipped with a heat sensor so it can follow you
even in heavy fog, as it did in Merseyside when the gadget was used by
the police to pursue and nab a 16-year-old car thief who left the
vehicle and hid in the bushes. The lad was arrested, but he may get
off if his defense is that the police illegally used the AR100B
without a license!
Seems that these drones cant legally fly around without Civil
Aviation Authority approval. Thats the argument used by civil
libertarians who say enough is enough when it comes to surveillance.
European controllers of air space have yet to decide on the legality
of these flying drones. Until they come to some agreement, the drones
have been temporarily grounded. Maybe a policeman needs a pilots
license to control one? Seems unlikely, because people fly
radio-controlled model planes all the time. The AR100B isnt that much
different from a radio-controlled model helicopter, though it
resembles some kind of metal insect. Theres nothing pretty about it.
If anything, the AR100B looks sinister.
Air Robot isnt the only company making them. Air Power Systems has one, too.
The Ar100B is operated at a range of up to 1,500 feet. In Merseyside
the police quickly assembled theirs and the operator could watch its
progress with special glasses even though the drone was out of sight
in the fog. The drone can whisper along under its four
counter-rotating rotors at up to 30 mph and use satellite GPS for its
It can hover, take off vertically, fly backwards or forwards, and
doesnt have to be in sight of the operator.
It sounds like science fiction of the 1940s, robots hovering outside
your fourth floor window watching, watching, but as we have seen,
almost anything that can be imagined can be accomplished, short (so
far) of your being able to step into a phone booth in New York and
dial yourself to London.
But the snoopy $60,000 drones are themselves being watched. The web
site Big Brother Watch is defending the public against these ever
encroaching surveillance practices. Seems there are all sorts of
surveillance gadgets. How else, for instance, can one inspect an oil
pipeline from the inside?
Still, considering budgetary problems, what police department can fork
over $60,000 for what looks like little more than a toy? And wouldnt
it be embarrassing if it tangled with a power line or got caught in a
tree like a kite?
To overcome public prejudice against government snooping, Air Robot
says their drone has multiple uses (besides peeking through third
story bathroom windows). Their web site lists reconnaissance, search
and rescue, intelligence, documentation, inspection, use by fire
fighters, law enforcement, the military, and special operations
Certainly, it would be useful for remote inspection of hazardous or
radioactive sites. Chernobyl comes to mind.
Since various censors can be attached to the AR100B besides a heat
detector, it can carry a Geiger counter, receptors for various forms
of radiation, such as radio, X-rays, etc. Video and still cameras can
be mounted on it. And of course it can be used day or night. Its not
just for chasing 16-year-old car thieves through the bushes.