If Drones Get Quiet

In my post earlier today on the nightmare scenario for drones, I described various technological improvements that are likely to happen, which could enable pervasive drone surveillance. One key avenue of technology progress I didn’t mention is the development of quieter drones.

The amount of noise that drones make will actually be a key issue in how they integrate into American life, and one that drone-watchers should pay close attention to. Police personnel have already cited their loudness in dismissing notions that they could operate as some kind of silent surveillance device. An official with the Miami-Dade Police Department, for example, told the National Journal, “Our drone looks like a flying garbage can, and it sounds like a weed whacker. This thing is very, very noisy. It wouldn’t allow you to sneak up on anybody.”

That is probably right. If drones sound like weed whackers, then that will have a limiting effect on their impact. Ryan Calo has speculated that because of their dramatic presence, drones may actually be the spark that lights a fire under Americans to begin fighting the erosion of their privacy. Survivors of the London Blitz describe the distinctive—and terrifying—psychological impact of the noise made by Hitler’s V-1 rockets (or “Buzz Bombs”) as these “pilotless bombers” flew into southern England. As long as drones make enough noise to remind people they are there, they won’t be able fade into the background so easily so that people will forget they are there, which is probably a key prerequisite for imposing surveillance. There’s a reason surveillance cameras are encased in domes that are made of smoked glass so that we don’t see the actual cameras swiveling around pointing at us.

Think of drone buzz as a kind of “notice”—one of the key principles of privacy.

If the drones get quiet, on the other hand—and all of the above will provide a strong incentive for developers to get them quiet—then it becomes much easier for them to be deployed routinely, to stay aloft 24/7, and to become instruments in the construction of a new surveillance system that most people won’t even think about. At least in the beginning.

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What goes up must come down. I can help!


BIG 4th of July afternoon surprise for me. Only I want independence from unwarranted surveillance.

I live a little north of Seattle and I heard and then saw what looked like one of those small black police drones over the corner of my yard. I was out weeding and looked up to see what a tiny motor sound was coming from. When I looked up it was approaching from the South corner of my yard, then it hovered for a moment several yards above, then a couple of seconds after I looked at it, it turned 180 degrees and flew back in the direction it came from. It didn't look like any RC toy I've every seen and there were no people I could see around the general area to be controlling a toy. So I suppose the police/govt now have a photo of me in my own yard from above.

Why in the world would I need spying on? I was thinking about doing some topless sun bathing, for heavens sakes. I don't need any photos of that or of even my face circulating around for no good reason. I am not happy about this intrusion from a few yards above my yard. There is no reason for this type of intrusion on peaceful citizens. Since I'm not a threat and certainly not a major threat to anyone, I have to assume that I'm not the first to have witnessed this kind of thing and that many others have seen this also. I want to complain about this, but I don't know where to start, so here I am. I guess if I knew there was a serious threat of some kind in my neighborhood, that a drone could help protect citizens from I would not be so irate. But there is no notice by anyone of any serious threats.

I also assume there is no way to prove this event happened, but I'm telling my neighbors, friends and family about it, knowing that most of them will help me keep a look out for this type of invasion in the future. I will start keeping my camera more handy, too. If anyone has ANY advice or comments on this I'd love to hear from you.


There is nothing to be worried about. Enjoy your day.

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