A Military History of Drone Use: An Aspiring GIScientist’s Analysis

I am very intrigued by the Watts et. al’s brief history of drone use, mainly the concept of unmanned aircraft existing before the 20th century. This is a testament to the intrusive and all encompassing  influence of defense expenditure. More testament lies in the incredible variety of military drone technology described in this paper. I am reminded of last week’s discussion on the weaponization of GIS and maps. Although drone technology existed before the introduction of widespread GIS technology, it is heavily enabled by Geospatial technology and poses an ethical dilemma much more real than the weaponization of paper maps. In “GIS and Society: Towards a Research Agenda”, Eric Sheppard discusses how GIS technology dissolves the notion of space by enabling an individual to be in two places at once (to a certain extent), and UAV technology adds a physical component to this notion.

On a lighter note, I have personally witnessed the commercialization of drones and see benefits of the dissolved barriers of access to users such as Leslie. The latter half of Watts et. al’s paper takes a much lighter tone, and discusses the scientific advancement made possible through drone technology, and more recently, remote sensing technology. I studied remote sensing last year under Pablo Arroyo, and was educated on the potential of LiDAR technology in researching areas difficult to access on foot. The potential for saved time and effort is astounding.

This paper views drone and remote sensing technology from a technical perspective, and while I do not take issue with that, it’s important to note it elects to abstain from discussing social or ethical implications of easily accessible airborne cameras. In the short time drones have become a commercial fad, I’ve heard stories of property disputes (as in video of a man shooting down a quadcopter above his home) and self proclaimed drone-free areas. I foresee an abundance of litigation and ethical discussion in the future.


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