COMMENTARY – For better or worse, here come the drones

Commentary by Joe McWilliams

Walking home from work one winter day, I heard a strange buzzing sound from the air. Suddenly – boom! – something crashed on the railway tracks, about 20 metres in front of me.

It was some sort of flying vehicle. Two guys were wading around in the deep snow a couple hundred metres away, looking for it. They clearly had no idea what they were doing. It was a drone, although I probably didn’t know the term at the time.

Fast forward a couple of years. A skier is whistling down the hill in a World Cup racing event in Austria. Crash!
Something lands just behind her on the slope, not missing her by much. A camera drone, says the newscaster. Oops!

Fast forward another year or two, and we see a drone clipping the nose cone of a passenger jet. There are many other reports of near misses.

Who is controlling this? The answer apparently is nobody, or not yet. The only rule regarding the use of these unmanned aircraft is that you can’t fly them at or near airports. Otherwise, it’s a free-for-all.

Drones were being used recently in earthquake-ravaged Ecuador to take pictures of toppled buildings. Apparently it was – or somebody thought it could be – helpful to the authorities.

The Spruce Point Park Association, believe it or not, used a drone to take photos of the lake outside its marina. The result, says association president Mike Skrynyk, is that a channel to deeper water was identified that nobody had been able to see from water level.

Then, we hear, the Slave Lake Regional Fire Service has been experimenting with a drone – perhaps as a tool in search and rescue operations.

The possibilities appear to be endless, for good or for ill, according to the limits of human ingenuity. In other words, there aren’t any, and at some point, governments are going to have to figure out how to get a grip on the use of these things.

The same goes for all-terrain vehicles. These have and are transforming what was formerly thought of as ‘wilderness.’ Thanks to the access that the ATV gives, nothing is really remote or ‘inaccessible.’ The regulators were utterly unprepared for what happened and is still happening. Like the drone phenomenon, the ATV goes just about anywhere, and its impact is enormous. Or at least potentially enormous. For both good and ill.

People will deny this. Drone and ATV lovers, like gun lovers, abhor the idea of control. Understandably enough.
Restrictions are imposed because of the reckless, but they affect everyone. It’s not fair, but it is inevitable.

It does not take much imagination, for example, to picture hunters – already with an unfair advantage over their big game prey – taking the ‘sport’ even further out of it with drone-location of game. The on-land version of the fish finder. Only worse, because the fish still has the option not to bite.

This is not actually something new – as far back as the 1930s big game guides in East Africa were hiring pilots to find elephants for their fat cat clients to kill. With drones, it gets way easier, and way cheaper.

How about illegal drug deliveries? The sky is the limit, and we’re not remotely prepared for it, as far as I can tell.

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