Personal unmanned aerial vehicles – better known as drones – are fun to play with, and they can perform a wide variety of useful functions. Practically anyone can learn to operate one pretty easily, and they're getting less expensive all the time.
All this means that they're a totally new source of trouble, giving pranksters and criminals new options while also extending their reach. The exploding popularity of affordable consumer and commercial drones has been straining (or breaking) old regulations, as innovative government agencies, companies, and hobbyists are using them in ways never before imagined.
Domestic Drone Crime “On The Rise”
UAVs present an opportunity for everyone. They're a liberating technology - for anyone that happens to use them.
Perhaps you've heard of “peeping drones,” which is the use of drones to spy on people as they go about their lives at home. This has been happening occasionally since this tech has become available, and it was one of the first kinds of popularly-reported drone crime. If you're bothered by nosy neighbors, this doesn't bode well for you.
But more serious criminals have been getting much more inventive with drones, which, in this light, become less like cute little helicopters and more like menacing birds of prey. In the UK, where drone crime seems to be a bigger problem at the moment, police report that drone-related crimes increased by 352% from 2014 to 2015, and that trend is speeding up rather than slowing down.
Image credit: BBC
There are now an increasing number of reports from the UK of drones being used by burglars to scope out potential targets. Just like the peeping drones, a small drone equipped with a camera can hover around a home, even getting a good look into the upper windows. Another way they're being used is to spy on PIN numbers from afar as people take cash out of ATMs.
While most drones are noisy and fairly obvious, they're still one of the safest and most effective surveillance tools for burglars. And when they're outfitted with HD and night vision cameras, they become even more powerful tools. Most of the drone crime cases in the UK are about concerns for public safety or suspicious behavior, but others are more directly related to violence or burglary.
Amazon and other companies are testing drones for delivery, but criminals are already in the business of airlifting drugs, phones, and other contraband into prisons. There are quite a few cases of this, as well as reports of drugs and guns being drone-smuggled across the border from Mexico to the U.S.
The rise of domestic drone crime has prompted a response, as you would imagine. Police have been creating dedicated drone crime squads, complete with “drone detectives,” to deal with this new threat, employing clever methods to catch criminals who use drones to do their dirty work.
There's a lot of talk about drones right now, and legislation of various kinds is being proposed to help regulate the consumer, commercial, and governmental aspects of their use. But not all drone news is scary – there are a ton of fun and useful applications for UAVs, and we've only scratched the surface in the past few years.
Drones have the power to revolutionize industries. Take a moment to check out the $100,000 Land Survey Automation Challenge, where contestants are working to make real estate transactions much easier and more efficient by using drones for property surveys. A few clever innovators have already won in the Concept Phase and are now working on the Prototype Phase. Keep an eye on the challenge page for their coming submissions!