SciSun: Droning On and On   Leave a comment

Almost a century ago, futurists (those who predicted future technology based upon guesses and assumptions. Today they’re named ‘outside consultants’), foresaw that today we would all be riding in airborne cars along highways in the sky on our way to an interstellar rocket launch pad while using personal jetpacks for a quick trip to the corner store (No one ever predicted Starbucks). Today, while none of those aerial achievements have come to pass and most of us are still bound to Earths surface, we can get a ‘birds eye view’ through different technologies: Satellite maps are easily available to anyone with an internet connection; helicopters and private airplanes, once thought impossible or only for the few are now common; and camera drones are showing up almost everywhere, televising sports events and delivering packages; from traffic monitoring to wildlife observation.

But while these drones – or quad copters, as those-in-the-know prefer, allow us to go places and see things we wouldn’t otherwise experience, the machines are only as capable as their operators – who sometimes are showing more obsession with technology, than common sense.

Fighting wildfires is a dangerous and difficult job under any conditions: Hiking while carrying heavy equipment; constant planning, revision and re-thinking the fire as it jumps and travels from one area to another; exhaustion, hunger and thirst; and of course the heat and flames themselves make for a job that’s usually thankless and sometimes deadly. So the weight of one more hazard can be the difference between saving, or losing, thousands of acres of forest, entire ecosystems, or the destruction of homes and loss of animal and human life. During the continuing severe drought and intense wildfire season, it’s been a quite a setback this summer as in multiple incidents privately-owned ‘hobbyist’ drones have been specifically identified as interfering with fighting California wildfires, and have been seen hovering around other firefighting operations. During the July ‘freeway fire’, where a wind-driven brushfire crossed I-15, the main highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, at least five drones flew above as dozens of cars were burning and hundreds of people had to grab what they could and run from the scene. Because of the drones – which are a hazard to aircraft as they are too small to be seen from a distance, yet just the right size to crash into a windshield or engine – fire-fighting planes and helicopters, equipped and ready to drop water and fire-retardant on the area, were delayed up to 20 minutes while the drones (officially identified as “unmanned aircraft systems”) flew at their leisure. Of course it’s not the drones themselves that are responsible; it’s the mann-ed part of these un-manned systems, the operators who control the vehicles into positions to get a better view of the fire, or anything else these thrill-seekers want to watch and record. To get more content for their YouTube channel, and, with a really good shot, submit (or sell!), to the 24 hour news culture, the actions of these hobbyists results in destruction of property, loss of natural resources, and endangered lives.

The ability to fly like a bird, overlooking the world below, was just a few years ago a fantasy but today is within reach of anyone with the time and money to unpack a few boxes and read an instruction manual. As a well-known superhero once learned: With great power comes great responsibility. (Isn’t that a lesson all heroes should know?). No one would want to hear someone yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded room, just because we all have the ability to yell out anything we want (of course with a drone, it would be much easier to find a fire in a crowded room); yet more and more, it seems it’s OK to put the lives and belongings of others at risk, just because we ‘can’. As governments and fire-fighting organizations scramble to put ‘no drone’ rules in place, it’s a race to see if drone operators will choose their ‘right’ to fly wherever, and whenever, they want, verses the responsibilities of considering the safety of others. But for now the debate, just like the machines, drones on and on.


Michonne Says: I don’t know what these ‘drones’ are, but it sounds like they’re trouble. If they can fly in the sky and look down at you and see where you are, that sounds a lot like a hawk, and a hawk is always trouble wherever they are. So I think I don’t like these drones, either.

Posted August 9, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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