Government agency warns of challenges posed by ‘drone swarms’
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — They promise to revolutionize surveillance and information-gathering from the sky, but drone swarm technology also poses risks to privacy and public safety, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. “You have to think of a swarm of them as like a hive of bees. So each bee is working collectively within that group to perform a task for the benefit of the hive,” said Tim Ehrenkaufer, a professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
“Drone swarms integrate advanced computer algorithms with local sensing and communication technologies to synchronize multiple drones to achieve a goal,” according to GAO. The technology already exists and is used in agriculture, emergency management and entertainment.
But the GAO also notes that drones can operate with minimal human intervention, and that means there may be concerns for safety, security and privacy. “The scariest vision, which is easy for us all to imagine in our minds, is an almost unstoppable force of independent things that could be quite small, or they could be a little bit larger, and they can deliver some kind of lethal attack, whether it’s explosive or something else. And because there’s so many of them, and because they’re relatively inexpensive, it would be possible to get rid of some of them, but not all of them,” said Daniel Rothenberg, who is the codirector of Arizona State University’s Future Security Initiative, and coauthor of the book, “Drone Wars: Transforming Conflict, Law and Policy.”
Rothenberg says drones have already transformed the modern battlefield, and it’s likely that transformation will continue and drone swarm technology matures. “We haven’t yet seen the kind of apocalyptic vision of drone swarms that can easily come to mind and really is frightening, but it’s inevitable that we will see massive numbers of drones able to do all kinds of things that previously were not possible,” said Rothenberg.
According to the FAA, between January and the end of June of this year, there were 32 reports of drones coming dangerously close to aircraft in Arizona. In one instance, a drone struck the canopy of an F-16 fighter jet flying over restricted air space near Gila Bend. Nobody was injured.
Four years ago, a small swarm of drones that included five to six aircraft were reported to have flown near or over the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, west of Phoenix. The incident is still shrouded in mystery.
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