The drones are coming, what could go wrong?

Continuing from Consumer Electronics Show 2015 here in Las Vegas where we were covering this week the first impresisions of the show and also some lessons that this digital invasion is leaving us. Now, we will approach another interesting topic that combines privacy and new technology: drones.

This year there really wasn’t a section of the show where you could swing a crammed backpack and be outside of potential reach of one of the little whizzing battery powered denizens – the flock of drones. They can reach out a kilometer or two and carry increasingly complex payloads (think 360-degree hi-res video on stabilized mounts) for increasing amounts of time. So what could go wrong?

For example the FAA in the United States spends a lot of time thinking about this sort of thing and wringing their hands. It used to be that things which hovered precariously close to population centers had a pilot in them who’d spent thousands of hours perfecting the craft by hovering in places without the slightest chance of smacking an open-air market, for example. Also, that pilot wouldn’t place precious cargo – in the form of screaming passengers and expensive whirling things – in particular peril, so there was strong incentive on both sides of the equation.

Not so any more. I watched a booth pilot get interrupted by a showgoer to field a question and pull his fingers off the controls, causing the craft to careen into the carpeted booth floor where it bounced and then headed toward the protective netting used to discourage people-propeller interactions. And this is a guy who knew how to fly these things pretty well, unlike your freshly minted neighbor/pilot.

The good news is that the current generation of recreational quad (or octo) copters probably couldn’t carry enough payload far enough to create much of a fantastic crash site. But they could more easily carry things like Wi-Fi extenders, GSM stacks (very light ones), and tiny embedded servers connected to such technology as, I don’t know, digital attack payloads and platforms hovering nearly silently around your network nodes. And for the cost of one of these tasty little hoverers, they sort of become fire-and-forget. Not so with a Eurocopter – someone would care terribly if it came up missing. Also, you’d notice a Eurocopter hovering for long periods outside the boardroom’s picturesque windows with folks in the back seat tapping away at things with antennas and blinking LED’s like in the movies.

Not too worry, you have your networks dialed and have a plan for spotting rogue hotspots, right? Good time to check. If your wireless devices suddenly try to connect to new networks, might be a good time to take a second look.

And while this year’s flock of copters couldn’t carry much, they cast a much larger shadow on the show tables than last year, some measuring a meter (or more) in span, and lifting into the pound(s) range, up from the grams range of yesteryear. You can fit a lot in a pound these days with tiny CPU’s and embedded everything.

This doesn’t mean you should never go outside, and just spend your time prepping the bunker. Every new set of tools brings its own challenges, but also a whole flock of opportunities, and tiny drones are no different. It’s now up to the creative types with an eye toward the skies to find new uses for these spider-looking critters to help – not hinder – our fellow humankind (and other stuff in the world we care about). Fix the problems we couldn’t solve using other technologies and the world will rejoice. But you also might want to lock down your networks a bit. And privacy concerns certainly present themselves in light of this tech. After all, now an attack can come whizzing silently outside the window. I wonder if this could happen, would we notice?

Picture Credits: ©Don McCullough/Flickr

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