Drones—What are They and How are They Used? by Alexandria Naftchi

Unmanned aerial vehicles (Drones or UAVs) are, essentially, robots designed for military or surveillance purposes. UAVs are either operated from afar or programmed to do a mission autonomously. Their use has skyrocketed in the past few years because they are cheaper to operate than a manned aircraft, they stay in the air for significantly longer than a manned ship (a British Zephyr can stay in the air for 82 hours straight), and humans operating them are not in danger. Most drones carry bombs or surveillance equipment. There has been much controversy over their use in the past couple years, and the subject is quite complex.

Military drones are often used for targeting individuals, such as in the War on Terror. These drones are quite large, approximately the size of a small helicopter.  Many terrorist leaders seek to hide in civilian areas throughout the Middle East, and as a result approximately ten civilians are killed for every terrorist in drone strikes inside Pakistani borders. Some military officials are concerned that people operating the drones have the potential to become too kill-happy, and see enemies as dots on a screen instead of human beings. But, bear in mind that many would-be fighter pilots’ lives are saved due to this technological advancement.

The other use for drones, and one that hits close to home for many Americans, is the surveillance drone. These can be anywhere from the size of an armed UAV to a mosquito, and are equipped with cameras. Surveillance UAVs are often used to track criminals and record things for news reporters. These drones essentially allow police to spy on anyone, without a warrant, from public airspace. Privacy law does not protect against drones, as declared by the Supreme Court in the case of Florida vs. Riley. The American Civil Liberties Union is very concerned about this perceived violation of the fourth amendment.