North Dakota Drones

Because they’ve been the vehicle for a lot of bad news and have become a symbol for government overreach, I’m betting 9/10 people respond unfavorably to the word “drone”.

Previously on this blog, I’ve written about ways technology evolves society in a direction which challenges our current social order. But drones present a way where those in power are empowered via unmanned aircraft abroad and at home. And my stately neighbor, North Dakota, through its efforts to research and educate about drones, has received the designation “Drone Capital of America” by the magazine Popular Science.

The first thing we should acknowledge is that unmanned aircraft are not inherently bad at all. The biggest example of their use given in the article, in fact, is for crop dusting. Mentioned as the third-deadliest job in America, it would indeed be a wise use of technology to allow the pilots to control the airplane from the ground. One might logically extend this to FedEx or UPS planes. How about forest fire-fighting and environmental surveillance? Several uses of flight might be better off with this technology. And all signs point to the ever-increasing use of it.

From the article, “In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration will admit military, private, and commercial drones into U.S. airspace. The move could dramatically increase the number of unmanned aircraft shooting through the skies, and with it, the value of the domestic drone economy.”

I suppose (along the vein of previous articles in this blog) this technology could be used to further challenge current legal order–i.e. drug smuggling drones, and challenging the FAA’s control of the airspace. But most applications fall within the boundaries of the law. It is the law-making apparatus–the government–and their infamous use of drones such as spying and missile attacks which first come to mind for many when the topic of drones arises.

Nonetheless, according to the article, North Dakota “has the nation’s first degree program in unmanned vehicles, at the University of North Dakota; an Air National Guard unit that switched from F-16 fighters to MQ-1 Predator drones a few years ago; and $5 million set aside for drone development if the FAA approves North Dakota as a drone test site.”

Local investment for these moves comes from North Dakota’s budget surplus. The article’s source, Al Palmer, director for the University of North Dakota’s drone program says “the state can reduce taxes and create income tax credit incentives for research expenditures to make a very business-friendly climate for drone-related startups.”

So with all that, there isn’t a yes/no, good/bad, black/white answer about the topic of drones. I’m sure much good will come from it as hypothesized above. And to help keep it that way, “North Dakota implemented an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Compliance Committee, which includes first responders, university community members, clergy, and city leadership. Every research project involving the university’s drones has to be vetted and approved by the committee.”

Inevitably, though, perhaps when the technology developed in North Dakota is outside its borders, I also think will be used for a lot of bad. I think it’s realistic to see how the convenience and eventual affordability of sending a drone to keep an eye on get-away bank robbers will lead to their use first on other police manners–surveillance of drug deals or prostitution–but then trickle to “preventative” law enforcement under the same guise as the outed domestic spying in the U.S. today. In short, and as is common with new technology, the use of drones can be used by those in power to abuse their power to stay in power. And for some politicians that temptation will be too great.

One can best hope, then, that the “good” use of this technology outweighs the “bad”.

What do you say to the ambitious posturing and effort by North Dakota to take the lead in drone research?



2 Responses

  1. Owen Ekman

    As you noted, people will have preconceived notions regarding technology when their only exposure to it has been one of bad press. Your blog shows the upside to this mode of flight and I’m certain when the public sees it being used for man’s benefit, their opinions will change. Thanks for this excellent piece, Brandon; very illuminating.

  2. “but then trickle to “preventative” law enforcement under the same guise”

    I would like to believe that this will never happen because the American people wouldn’t allow it to happen.

    But nowadays… well let’s just say my faith in that idea is dwindling.

What say you?