AG June 21, 2006 1:03 PM

Normally this is the kind of thing I would damn till my face was red… BUT

Drones will be watching the police too. As soon as a Rodney King situation happens and the cities very own drone video ends up costing them millions in settlements I think the drones will fly south for the winter and never come back.

The only agencies that will use drones will be the ones that are immune from penalty such as the FBI and Secret Service.

Imagine the first time a drone breaks and crashes onto a family of three?

I love it cities, counties, etc will feel a lot of pain if they go this route.

roy June 21, 2006 1:37 PM

If this flies at 250 feet it will be naked-eye visible to anyone, although largely inaudible except at night. It will be sharing airspace with the police helicopters, which should worry the pilots.

The news and traffic copters will be above this thing, looking down. Will there be an injunction against them broadcasting sightings, which would disclose the location being surveilled?

If one goes ‘wild’ and crashes, it is very unlikely it will hit a person, a vehicle, or a residence. It is far more likely a mishandled landing will wreck it.

I doubt it will see much use in gang-dominated areas, since there are too many eyes and ears there — and guns to shoot it down.

Fred F. June 21, 2006 1:41 PM

I don’t think the FAA would allow these things to fly without some kind of a transponder. It will not be too hard to know where it is. Yes it should be invisible to the eye (mostly). There are many solutions to the crashing problem. There are small parachutes that can be attached to it so that it soft lands and it can be automated enough so that mostly it will be safe. Will there be accidents sure, but that happens with helicopters and planes too.
Anyone that thinks they can shoot one of these down without some kind of guided weapon is mistaken. They move, and fast. You would need to put a LOT of lead in the air to bring it down from where it does surveillance. If it gets close to you then it is already too late.

wkwillis June 21, 2006 1:47 PM

29 mph is not suitable for serious work. They need a hover and high wind capability. We will also need to preposition them on roofs all over.
They have the complexity and in large numbers the cost of a small motorcycle, so when China orders a million for their police the cost will come down to about two thousand dollars each.
Then your city will get them. Incidentally, they will be controlled by cheaper noncop types and therefore will operate without the code of silence. This will drastically cut down on police brutality.
Which will make the cops much more effective as a group if less effective as individuals.

jmr June 21, 2006 1:48 PM


“– and guns to shoot it down.”

I’m pretty sure it takes absolutely insane marksmanship skills to shoot down a flying object at an altitude of 250 feet with a pistol. Though I’m no sharpshooter, I have a challenging time hitting a stationary paper target from 50 feet.

I’m also pretty sure that someone armed with a rifle might have a difficult time. Consider that criminals with guns in cities probably aren’t expert marksmen, and I’d have to conclude that actually losing a craft to gunfire in a US city seems remote.

If people do begin shooting at them, look for more emergency room visits from people whom bullets have landed on. The difficulty with bullets is that when you miss your target they usually keeping going until they hit an unintended target.

greygeek June 21, 2006 2:09 PM

How high are ducks when people shoot them down?

Or rather, how high was that whooping crane when some bozo shot it a couple of years ago in Texas.

This thing is a little larger than a whooping crane, and not as fast. It’s probably a little less vulnerable to birdshot — it won’t bleed to death, but a bit of birdshot in the electronics should disable it pretty well.

Let’s see… Cheney was using a 26-gauge and hit whatsisname at about 30 yards. That put something like 100 pellets into him, and one made it into his heart…

Do you think gangbangers might enjoy blasting away with a 12-gauage?

Mike Sherwood June 21, 2006 2:11 PM


The traditional weapon of choice for small, flying objects is the shotgun. Birdshot is cheap and plentiful. I doubt this is likely to be a significant problem, but it would be fun to test the viability of this counter surveillance mechanism. =)

The details surrounding the control mechanism would be much more interesting from an attack perspective. It would be interesting to see how one of these stacks up against a predator. I suspect the military is paying a lot more for their drones because they expect motivated attackers with resources.

radiantmatrix June 21, 2006 2:19 PM

From the summary in the article, it doesn’t look like these are intended for (or really practical for) surrepititious surveilance. It seems more like a remote drone to be used to get a view of situations that currently require an expensive police helicopter deployment, or to scout potentially dangerous-to-the-cops situations.

The battery lasts 70m, and must be controlled from nearby, so this seems like something that would be deployed as an extra set of eyes, not entirely dissimilar from the in-car cameras in cruisers, but with greater flexibility during operation (but operated in far fewer situations).

I’d say that this is a pretty good tech: send cheap, expendable drones to do jobs that are expensive and/or dangerous for humans to do, but which remain under human control. I don’t see this evolving to a mass-surveilance tech in the near future…

Matthew Skala June 21, 2006 2:40 PM

A little searching on the Net indicates that birds like ducks often do fly at 250 feet in routine flight, and much higher during migration. However, I’m not sure that they are routinely shot when flying at that height. I think people who hunt ducks with shotguns normally attempt to shoot the ducks as they’re landing or taking off, at heights much less than 100 feet.

Also, a duck is a lot softer than an aircraft. I think you’d be very hard pressed to take down a metal drone aircraft flying at 250 feet, with a shotgun blast fired from the ground.

TakeControl June 21, 2006 3:31 PM

If these drones are deployed, I suspect one attack would be to simply interfere with its command control system. Why shoot it down with a gun if you can just turn on a device that causes it to crash or interferes with the video signal being transmitted. Also, unless the video and other data transmitted to/from the device is using strong encryption, look for devices that can take control of the drone or simply “tap” the video signal, so anyone in the vicinity will be able to see “live” broadcasts from these drones. I can see it now, the unmanned drone website with live video feeds from drones around various cities.

Yosemite Sam June 21, 2006 3:43 PM


From the article:

Wings: aluminum and nylon fabric (!)
Fuselage: Kevlar (!!)
Folds up to fit in the back of a squad car.

Weight: 5 lbs.
Wingspan: 6.5 ft.
Length: 3 ft

Quibbles: The article actually says “width”, not “wingspan”.

A decent shotgun hit to the wings would almost certainly bring it down, though I might use buckshot instead of birdshot. Since the fuselage is Kevlar, I doubt the hit would damage the electronics. But at $20K each, it might be interesting to hold it for ransom, or sell it on eBay.

gabbeaux June 21, 2006 3:48 PM

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen………

Frelghra June 21, 2006 4:13 PM

250 feet is out of range to seriously harm a duck with a shotgun; you could conceivably wound one enough to knock it down, but that would take exceptional luck. Hunting ducks with steel shot, I personally wouldn’t take a shot longer than 50 yards. With lead or bismuth you can get decent stopping power a little further out, but an 80 yard shot is just a waste of a shell.

The best you could hope to do to a drone like this with birdshot would be a few very small holes in the wings. Buckshot might cause enough damage to bring it down, but I tend to doubt it; plus the chance of hitting the thing at all is much lower since you have fewer pellets in the air.

In my opinion, a strong wind would be a greater danger than a gun on the ground.

jmr June 21, 2006 4:41 PM

Yeah, stupid me, I forgot about shot guns, but I still think my argument applies.

Traditional weapon for duck hunting != traditional weapon for committing murder. The last time I heard about violence in the city, it’s mostly hand guns, not long-arms.

Maybe a twelve gauge can take out a flying object at 250 feet. It can’t if it’s a sawed-off shotgun, for sure. And as soon as you start carrying long-arms in public view, people start to notice. That’s the great thing about pistols, revolvers, and sawed-off shotguns: they’re small.

Yeah, I’m sure there are some full-size shotguns out there in the cities. I still doubt that most people in the city using them could hit, never mind bring down, an object at an altitude of 250 ft moving at 29 mph. I also assure you that the prefered version of the unmodified 12-gauge for urban offensive and defensive purposes would be difficult to hit a flying drone with: the pistol grip shotgun. Very useful in tight quarters where a standard shotgun with a stock may pose difficulty. (Read: if I owned a shotgun for self-defense, I’d own a pistol-grip).

I’ve also shot trap plenty of times, and it’s easy enough to miss from 20 yards at an object with very little lateral motion. Yeah, trap birds are small, but the electronics you need to hit on the drone are also pretty small. A camera and a circuit board, maybe? And presumably the drones will be made out of a stiffer material than clay birds, which often shatter with just a few pellets impacting them.

At the shooting range I belonged to, they rearranged the sporting clays range once to keep the shot from falling on the pistol range. It wasn’t particularly dangerous, unless you were looking up and got a pellet in the eye, but it did make people uneasy.

Now, if you’re shooting at the thing with a shotgun, presumably unless you get it on the first shot, somebody is going to call the police somewhere in the vicinity and they’re already going to be looking for you. So, if you do manage to hit it, you’ll probably be on camera anyway. And recently fired guns show up quite nicely on IR displays.

No, I wouldn’t worry about people blasting them out of the sky. I’d be more worried with the potential abuse of the technology towards destroying more anonymity.

Preston L. Bannister June 21, 2006 5:14 PM

$20-30K for a five pound battery powered model airplane with a camera? Seems a bit steep.

The main problem is going to be wind. There are a lot of days where the wind will be too strong to launch, keep station, or land. The notion of using a small UAV for search in the mountains (given winds and turbulence) is equally goofy.

Now if they were $2K a pop, then you might not care about the loss rate due to crashes.

To handle a wider range of conditions, you need more speed and endurance. A small internal combustion engine would almost certainly beat batteries.

If I were trying to make this idea work, I would consider the feasibility of using a cell phone company’s wireless high-speed data network. Due to volume, the hardware is cheap and light. Urban areas in need of patrol are likely already covered by the network.

This is slightly creepy, as it turns large-scale aerial surveillance – and all the data collected – into a relatively straightforward web application.

Woody June 21, 2006 5:36 PM

250′? Anyone with a decent deer rifle and scope should be able to hit it.

While I doubt that all gang members in an area would be carrying a longer weapon like a rifle, the ease of obtaining a rifle (buy ’em at Walmart, where I’m from) makes it easy to fix that problem.

And I doubt the drone will panic and run like a deer would.

Someone up to no good could easily post a sniper, and have a pretty sizeable target to hit. Decent rifle/scope/ammo, and sniper could probably have time to try several shots to damage the drone.

Even if it doesn’t destroy it, the impact of a supersonic chunk of metal should definitely cause some unexpected acceleration of the electronics.

another_bruce June 21, 2006 6:55 PM

250 feet up is out of effective shotgun range. if it holds still for a moment, yeah, you could hit it with a rifle, at the risk to others already noted. i’d launch another rf-controlled plane and try to ram it.

Fred June 21, 2006 8:55 PM

It seems to me that unless you spend a lot of time training the operators, these things are going to be a significant hazard to aircraft in the vicinity. Although the article assumes these will operate at 250 ft, it will take attention and training to make sure they never go into airspace that is already in use. Additionally, a manned aircraft’s pilot is trained to be looking for traffic conflicts; I don’t see how a single operator concentrating on the ground picture is going to be able to see other air traffic in time.
UAV’s are a great concept in military environments where the risk to life is unacceptable and there is only one agency controlling the friendly aircraft. They are an unnecessary risk and danger in a civil environment with many parties using the air and relying on “see-and-avoid” doctrine.

Tim June 22, 2006 1:37 AM

Now, I know next to nothing about guns, but I’m guessing that even with a rifle and scope you’re unlikely to hit the fuselage; it’s a 4 inch moving target at 250′. What you would do is put a small hole in the fabric of the wing which would have a negligible effect on the drone.

I can’t see the ramming idea working either; I’ve done a bit of R/C flying, and at 250′ it would be very difficult to hit another plane.

siljeal June 22, 2006 5:26 AM


“As soon as a Rodney King situation happens and the cities very own drone video ends up costing them millions in settlements I think the drones will fly south for the winter and never come back.”

You can pretty much bet that in such a situation, a drone’s video would somehow have been corrupted, lost or unusable for other reasons.

Ed T. June 22, 2006 6:35 AM

Folks – no need to use a firearm to bring this thing down. Simply find out what frequency they are using to control the bird, and aim a directional antenna at it – connected to a transmitter tuned to the frequency (or somewhere close.)

Not that I would ever recommend doing such a thing (after all, it violates at least one Federal law), but unless they have a real secure control system (and how secure will that be for $20-30K?), these things aren’t going to last in an urban environment very long.


AG June 22, 2006 9:56 AM

You would think so… I’ve found cops just are either A: Not that Smart or B: Don’t believe they were doing anything wrong

Anonymous June 22, 2006 10:55 AM

Difficulty in shooting it down? How about a kamikaze attack from a hundred dollar (ish) RC model airplane against a $20K UAV?

Mario June 22, 2006 11:01 AM

How high and fast does the average radio controlled model plane fly? Rather than shooting it or trying to interfere with the electronic transmission controlling it, why not hit it right out of the sky with your own model plane? It’s quite sporting, I think.

Sure, that’s going to cost money, but I’m guessing cheap model planes meant to be destroyed can be built for much, much less than one of these drones cost. Moreover, you may be able to salvage parts after each crash.

Dan Gochenour June 22, 2006 11:10 AM


I have the latests terrorist threat! Thousands of idiots in cities, not intending to be terrorist, trying to shoot down drones!

Just imagine the movie that could be made for TV on this one.


DM June 22, 2006 11:40 AM

You wouldnt even need to hit it dead on – use the r/c plane to trail a couple of fishing lines with lots of fishhooks along their lengths.

Then again, maybe a miniature reconaisance aircraft needs miniature barrage baloons to take it down.

Or… barrage kites, with fishhooks on the kite string… yeah thats the trick, and something to get the kids of their frikken playstations on hot summers days too.

Anonymous June 22, 2006 12:16 PM

These won’t be so bad until they put the weapons on them like the cia drones… At any rate, the surveillance makes sense to me, but the oversight of the surveillers (is that a word?) is FAR more important. It’s like the FISA court overseeing the wiretapping. They are not there to Impede, but to oversee. As long as we have accountability, safety is maintained. Anything less belongs in the memory hole at the Ministry of Truth.

Geoff Lane June 22, 2006 12:24 PM

Finally, a target worthy of the ordinance that the NRA fights for the right of the ordinary citizen to own.

I wonder how hard it would be to put together a radar guided assault rifle 🙂

Or even, three laptops with WIFI and webcams
could cooperate to track a target and generate x,y,z coordinates for a servo assisted targetting system as used in the remake of The Jackal.

Jiminy June 22, 2006 12:27 PM

These won’t be so bad until they put the weapons on them like the cia drones… At any rate, the surveillance makes sense to me, but the oversight of the surveillers (is that a word?) is FAR more important. It’s like the FISA court overseeing the wiretapping. They are not there to Impede, but to oversee. As long as we have accountability, safety is maintained. Anything less belongs in the memory hole at the Ministry of Truth.

Kevin McGrath June 22, 2006 1:45 PM

WOW! I thought I was going crazy last week when I called 911 in Brooklyn, NY to report what I thought was a small plane circling near & then over my house. As I live near one of the landing approaches to JFK airport I’m used to the normal landing patterns so this looked very suspicious to me. So trying to practice NYPD’s motto, “If you see something, say something”, I placed the 911 call and they told me to call my local precinct, the 63rd. I called them and at first they seemed a bit confused and then told me they had a helicopter in the area doing some investigating. I told whoever I was talking to that it was a small plane not a helicopter. He finally told me that they knew about it and not to worry. I hung up and continued to be worried.

poorshot June 23, 2006 8:26 AM

“but I’m guessing that even with a rifle and scope you’re unlikely to hit the fuselage; it’s a 4 inch moving target at 250′.”
I’m not a great shot but can group 30-06 rounds in a 1″ circle at 50 yards without much of a problem with a properly sighted
scope. A 4″ moving target, even at 250′, should not be too difficult.

Clive Robinson June 23, 2006 9:42 AM

Ask yourself the TAX question,

Who Payes and who Spends…

We allready know that Satellite Imaging is being used to catch people who are not paying the correct property/land tax, and there are helicopter systems that can read several hundred number plates a minute from 1000 ft (see previous blog entries).

My guess, is that street crime will evolve around the drones (as with CCTV), in that the stupid will be taken off the streets and the more intelegent criminal will work with the systems limitations and carry on pretty much as normal.

For example in terorist training camps in the middle east where it was known when the U.S. spy satellites would pass over (info supposedly supplied by the Russians). The trainers would make sure all the trainies would be in their tents untill it had passed.

So the drones will fairly quickly become ineffective for their stated purpose (as a crime prevention system) and a new role will have to be found for them, they are expensive items afterall…

I think the drone system will end up being used to raise tax dollars from those who can be squeezed (i.e. middle class home owners and SUV drivers).

Disagree if you will but that is what is happening in the U.K. so I see no reason why the U.S. cannot catch on to the same TAX raising idea, after all the TAX take from companies is dropping as they virtulize off shore etc, so your political leaders have to get their vote buying dollars from somewhere other than direct taxation.

Clive Robinson June 23, 2006 9:52 AM

As for shooting them down, why bother a gun might be handy to carry but is a dam dificult tool to use at any range. Most trained soldiers are not marksmen and could not hit a paper target reliably with a rifle at 200ft on the ground and the sights need to be adjusted for height any way.

Why not fly a stunt kite or two instead the drones would not like to be anywhere near them especially if they have “jelly fish tails”.

Or why not activly hunt them with a remote controled aircraft, just think of the fun you could have with a 300$ model plain as you buzz it repeatedly.

And whats wrong with a good old fashioned smudge pot (a bucket with a few rags and oil) to produce lots of smoke from roof tops.

The point is you don’t have to bring the drone down just stop it looking at you and there are more simple ways to do this than skining the preverbial cat…


Why not hold another “movie plot” competition to see how many original ideas come up.

VoidRunner June 24, 2006 4:39 PM

I vote for the “aerial surveiliance terrorist movie” !

Bruce, thats a neat idea!

Roger July 1, 2006 1:08 AM

A few interesting points. As others have pointed out, there is a specs page here:
Read it if you find this subject interesting. There is also a Wikipedia article:
(Which doesn’t add much more information, but links to several reports) and specs sheets for the control protocol:

These immediately answer a few questions. The control protocol is IP based over 128 bit WEP, so “taking over” the drone is nontrivial (although due to well-known weaknesses in WEP, not actually impossible). Jamming may well be possible, but will not usually achieve much: the drone is normally autonomous through flight, including landing, and records all its video. Thus jamming will reduce mission flexibility and prevent real time observation, but not stop the drone from being used. Also, the transmitter comes with an amplifier for 1 W operation, making jamming distinctly harder than with regular 802.11b (4 W and 10 W options are also available, but restricted to “military or foreign use”).

On the other hand, use of WEP means that–even if the digital video link is encrypted–it should be decryptable by any interested parties shortly after the end of the flight, so people can be satisfied the drones are not being abused. I would like to suggest that law enforcement users should in fact publish the WEP key for each flight as soon as the flight ends, except for surveillance flights performed under warrant (where publication may violate the suspect’s rights).

As for shooting it down, what a load of nonsense. This thing offers quite a bit of target area but nearly all of that is ripstop nylon wing fabric. Putting a pellet or bullet through that will do it no significant harm at all. The actual vital structures include the armoured electronics & motor package (looks ~3 in x 1.5 ft); and the tail boom and wing supports, both of which are made of spring steel rods looking ~1/4 in thick. All of these structures are likely completely impervious to birdshot at 250 feet, and — travelling ~7 times its own vulnerable length in the minimum ToF of the pellets — almost impossible to hit with buckshot. As for hitting it with a rifle… pffft. There’s a reason duck hunters use shotguns, and LLAD gunners use multi-barrelled automatic cannon with combined cyclic rates of over 2000 rpm…

Plus consider the intended applications:
* searching for lost children or hikers — no-one is going to be shooting at it;
* monitoring accident scenes and hazmat incidents — no-one is going to be shooting at it;
* checking rooftops for burglar entry points, apparently a big deal in LA at the moment — burglar unlikely to have more than a handgun, and doesn’t want to give away position by firing at hapless robots, plus, it’s dark and he won’t even see it; and
* monitoring siege situations — hostage-takers may try to shoot it down, but are unlikely to notice it when hunkered down inside. If they come outside and start firing hundreds of rounds into the air, they are vulnerable to being captured, and at least they are shooting at robots not the victims.

Aerosight July 1, 2006 2:29 AM

Fun reading guys!

I build civilian drones for Real Estate photography, search and rescue and fire fighting. Roger (The last post) has it figured out. I like your brain waves!

Roger sums it up. We all know this is the future of war and civilian uses alike. Lets just hope that guys like myself and those that use them concider how they will be used, regardless of how we intended them to be..


guy December 23, 2008 12:57 AM

Think about magnetron in a microwave. They emit 2000W of directed energy in the 2.4 Ghz range. Open up a surplus microwave and make yourself a directional antenna and fry the electronics. Its 100% silent and no one will know you have a HERF directed energy weapon. There are average people constructing these devices. PC’s have been destroyed in a second after these devices have been used.

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