I've been on both sides of this. I once had to go on an emergency patrol because a Shadow crashed into a building in Baghdad and they only had a 4 digit grid as a locator. It was really disheartening because we loved doing night patrols with that thing. One of my favorite missions was following a car that was marked with an infrared beam emitted from the Shadow. It's just damn cool to flip down the NODs and see that green light coming down from the sky. Truly felt like I was living in the future.

I also went to Raven school and clocked some hours flying surveillance in our sector. The Raven is a pain in the ass but it gets the job done.

The Raven is one of smallest drones but even it has substantial "ease of use" technology behind it. If you use the laptop in tandem with it, you can plot GPS coordinates (much like marking something on Google maps) and instruct it to fly in generally two ways: circle a GPS point or circuit all GPS points. These, of course, were changeable in-flight and you could create a new GPS point, click a button, and instruct it to fly there and circle it. Flying freehand was only advised in rare and dynamic circumstances. However, you can still set a minimum altitude when flying freehand which alleviated a lot of the stress of flying it so.

The hand controls and interface were pretty crummy when I went to the school for it. During deployment I got to enjoy a week-long vacation at one of the bigger bases in Baghdad in the form of a Raven upgrade class (from RQ-11A to RQ-11B). It improved upon things substantially -- the interface, controller, laptop software, response, etc. was so so so much better. I imagine similar things, if only software, are rolled out often for the far more complex drones.

I don't want to question WashPo's integrity, but it seems like they are trying to raise the alarm on the physical/malfunctional danger of drones as a developing technology and I'm hoping Part 2 of this isn't about how we need to augment our building codes to account for drones that might hit our houses.

Fortunately, we've had the luxury of finding all of these issues overseas where the errors will only affect Abu Someone's house and life, which nobody really cares about. You can bet the FAA has been taking notes, and they will regulate the hell out of everything and anything when drones really hit the mainstream, and require various "oh shit" features built into them. More problems will be found via quantity but by then the risk might be worth the reward.

Like any other developing technology, all of this stuff is gonna be worked out and it will be fine. We won't need to put steel plates in our roofs, just foil on our windows.

posted by mk: 1671 days ago