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Home > Reviews > Drones: What Everyone Needs to Know

Drones: What Everyone Needs to Know

Author Sarah Kreps

ISBN No 97801-9023-5352

Review date 26/06/2019

No of pages 224

Publisher Oxford University Press

Publisher URL https://global.oup.com/academic/product/drones-9780190235352

Year of publication 29/07/2016

Brief

Drones: What Everyone Needs to Know by Sarah Kreps. Published 2016 by Oxford University Press, paperback, ISBN 97801-9023-5352, 224 pages, £10.99. Visit www.oup.com.

Our Review

This reviewer had better set out his views at the outset; to quote from the final page of this welcome and wide-ranging book by Prof Sarah Kreps, I believe that drones are rather over-sold, at least on the civilian side; and there’ll be few uses for them, much like flying cars in the Hollywood film Back to the Future did not take off (pardon the pun).

Drones may well be useful for site surveys, to go where a surveyor could only go with cherry-picker, or not at all, above rooves or around an oil and gas terminal; but not as a replacement for the CCTV that most UK sites have plenty of already. Just because a drone (or rather, the drone plus its human operator) can do something, does it mean it’s the quickest, safest and (above all?!) cheapest way to do a thing? Put another way, what can a drone do quicker or cheaper than a helicopter or satellite? Surprisingly little is ever said of the drone operator, compared with the admittedly photogenic drone itself. Kreps does devote four pages in a chapter on armed drones to ‘what is it like to be a drone pilot’, to do with the military; it’s ‘unenviable shift work’, and not as respected as an aeroplane pilot. Arguably it has more in common with a CCTV control room operator than a soldier, only (and how seldom is this appreciated!) the camera is not fixed, but moving in three dimensions, subject to wind and rain, and harder to pilot than adverts and the product’s box wrapping may suggest.

Whether drones become as common as delivery trucks, or as rare as helicopters, or in between, as Kreps says: “Even if not ubiquitous, drones are here to stay.” And for the private security readers, drones present - again, to quote from the final page of Kreps’ round-up of the issue - drones present ‘both opportunities and concerns’. For private security, guarding sites and assets, the opportunity is to use a drone instead of fixed CCTV or human guards; the concern is that drones can trespass, whether to carry out voyeurism or surveillance (merely annoying and theft of private or intellectual property, if taking pictures of a wedding, or the filming of a Hollywood movie) or to crash-land or deliver a pay-load, a suicide bomb only the pilot isn’t committing suicide but operating the drone from a safe distance.

To return to Kreps; she comes to the subject as a ‘former military officer turned political scientist’. She has studied the politics, law and ethics of drone use, whereas most of us know them from the Jason Bourne movies or the televised news, and their use as a targeted weapon of war (which however, as Kreps points out, could entice users to spin out wars in time and space - in other words, to make the war on terror a ‘forever war’, to quote the novelist Joe Haldeman). And whether those killed in drone strikes are guilty terrorists or innocent civilians, who can say? Certainly not those struck.

Just as after 9-11 the United States clutched at drones as a way to go after Taliban and related terrorists, so as Kreps says ‘the technology has largely led the policy on drones’, and only partly because the technology has come of age in a short time. Kreps suggests that drones will only bear fruit if they are regulated. She also looks at where the technology might go - if drones (or to be more precise ‘unmanned technologies’) become smaller, their payload may become less or nil, but they may become more useful (as spying devices?!). Ironically, the risk to site security managers - of such vulnerable places as nuclear or other power stations, let’s say - or to airline pilots may not be the drone fired at them by a malicious actor, but the drone bought as a birthday present that morning, sent aloft by the proud new owner who promptly lets the toy fly out of sight (which is illegal in the UK) and control, to crash or land who knows where. And if you set up guns of whatever sort to shoot down drones at your perimeter, might those guns (in the hands of whoever) be more of a risk to your site than drones?!

This book, while written by an American, is commendably (and unusually) international in its examples and outlook. In fairness to Kreps, despite the impression this review may have given so far, she writes not only of drones in the air, but on the ground and at sea, which have all drawn interest from various nations, usually for military (or defence) purposes, such as mine-sweeping or for IED detection. As with every piece of technology, the tool is not illegal, but its uses may be - such as trafficking of illegal drugs over borders and into prisons.

Pictured; part of the 'drone zone' at the IFSEC 2016 security exhibition at London Excel.