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American Drones Moving In At Home

America’s drone future, at home. With a near-miss airliner incident and debate over regulation, drones are moving in. Plus: Richard Clarke on his new novel of a drone-filled future America.

Parrot product manager Francois Callou holds a Parrot Bebop drone during a Parrot event in San Francisco, Thursday, May 8, 2014. The Parrot Bebop drone, which has a 14-megapixel fish-eye camera lens and battery life of about 12 minutes flying time, is scheduled to be released later this year. (AP)

Parrot product manager Francois Callou holds a Parrot Bebop drone during a Parrot event in San Francisco, Thursday, May 8, 2014. The Parrot Bebop drone, which has a 14-megapixel fish-eye camera lens and battery life of about 12 minutes flying time, is scheduled to be released later this year. (AP)

Big and lethal American drones have changed the equation of global power projection in the last decade.  Raised big moral and legal and strategic questions in skies around the world.  Now, a swarm of smaller drones is chomping at the bit to flood America’s skies.  The FAA is still working out the rules, but some aren’t waiting.  We had a near-miss with an airliner just reported in Florida.  They’re calling it the Wild West up there.  And it’s just begun.  This hour On Point:  drones in American skies, present and future.  And we’ll talk with former White House security guru Richard Clarke about American drones abroad.

– Tom Ashbrook


Jack Nicas, aviation reporter for The Wall Street Journal. (@jacknicas)

Vijay Kumar, professor in the school of engineering and applied sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Former assistant director of Robotics and Cyber-Physical Systems at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Christian Sanz, CEO and founder of Skycatch, a data retrieval and aerial robotics platform. (@csanz)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Wall Street Journal: FAA, Drones Clash on Rules for Unmanned Aircraft — “Across the U.S., drones monitor crops, snap real-estate photographs, inspect roofs, shoot commercials and perform other tasks, according to people in the unmanned aircraft industry. Pilots of those drones are defying seven-year-old restrictions on commercial unmanned aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has said the curbs are needed for public safety. But limited resources and legal complications have led to scattershot enforcement by the agency, emboldening even more drone operators.”

Smithsonian Magazine: What Would You Do With A Drone? – “Drone technology was developed for military use, but a growing number of alternatives have popped up in the last decade. Citrus farmers now use drones to monitor crops. Conservationists keep tabs on endangered species, as well as any poachers. Police departments are thinking of using them in rescue and hostage situations. Drones have even helped shoot some major feature films, including Man of Steel and Skyfall.”

 Houston Chronicle: Drones give energy companies high hopes for safer work — “Unmanned aerial vehicles flying over pipelines while outfitted with special sensors could detect leaks quickly. And that’s not the only potential application. Energy companies are testing drones to inspect hard-to-reach spaces like refinery flare stacks, offshore platforms and even wind turbine blades in an effort to save time and boost worker safety.”

Richard Clarke On His Novel “Sting Of The Drone”

Richard Clarke, author of the new book, “Sting of the Drone.” Former White House National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism. (@ghsrm)

Read An Excerpt Of “Sting Of The Drone” By Richard Clarke

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  • http://alchemicalreaction.blogspot.com/ Alchemical Reaction

    This is off topic. But I have no where else to vent this frustration without being censored. Google is absolute garbage. Their U.I. is from the 80s when everybody else is using plasma. They have the world’s WORST customer service, you can never communicate directly with one of their customer service people. Their platforms are jumbled and difficult to manage, and you always feel like you have the NSA’s eyes on you when you use Google services. Google Sucks! The simple fact that you can’t say how much they suck without being censored PROVES they suck!

    • dust truck

      Well, there’s always Yahoo! or Microsoft’s Bing.

      No seriously, Bing has actually been pretty good lately and they don’t contribute to Tea Party causes either. Yes, really. Google had a fundraiser for Climate Denier/oil company shill/ all around nutbar, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. So much for the old motto, “Don’t be evil.”

    • AnneDH

      Yeah, my gmail is hosed and I can’t get any help.

    • nj_v2

      DuckDuckGo for searching; they don’t track or record you. And there are alternatives to the other, various Google “services.”

  • Brad

    I worry about the trend toward the virtual experience crowding out physical experiences. PJ Singer’s prediction that drones will fundamentally alter the morality of war can be extrapolated to the fundamental changes to individual accountability as our experience of the world becomes more virtual than physical. Landing a real aircraft in a 30 kt crosswind and scuba diving on a shipwreck in Boston Harbor are materially different experiences than the virtual experiences of aerial and underwater drones. So, what is being sacrificed?

    However, being a Luddite is not an option. Improvements to mobility is one of the great (and fundamental) human pursuits (horse, wheel, car, Saturn V, etc.) So, like PJ Singer noted, the conversation should focus on the impacts of this technology on our behavior. Will it promote more risk taking or less? I know that fewer young people are interested in cold-water scuba diving – I usually blame their parents for raising “teacups”, but maybe it’s really Facebook’s fault.

  • Shag_Wevera

    This might be one instance I’m glad we have so many firearms in America. I’m hoping that taking pot shots at these flying parasites will become the new national pastime. I was out recently and saw some little machine hovering 20 or 30 feet in the air off in the distance. What was it? I hope it wasn’t recording my dog food purchase. Never in my life did I envision a future like this.

    • harverdphd

      Cory…just some kids playing…you need a hobby, bud.

  • andrewgarrett

    For 21st century “progressives” new is scary, old is better, and everything is a conspiracy – just as it is for the crackpot Right. But if we are concerned with human life we should welcome the use of technology that allows far fewer civilian deaths. If a war is being fought, would you prefer that we go back to Vietnam era technology, when far, far more innocent people were killed? The inane term “drone war” implies that the technology is the problem. Should we call the Vietnam War the “jet and bomb war”? Should we call WW II the “rifle, bomb, propeller plane, and machine gun war”? Should we call the Athens vs. Sparta war the “spear war”?

    • Coastghost

      Now that the 21st century has arrived despite the best efforts of atomic, biological, and chemical warfare, why are we not instead cultivating a deep and widespread skepticism towards the claims and promises and threats posed to human life by our sciences and applied technologies?
      Sciences and technologies have given us Technogenic Climate Change and signally failed to predict its advent.
      Let’s ban drones until the dawn of the 23rd century, just to be sure anyone will still be around to play with them.

    • 65noname

      actually, I prefer that the government didn’t get into wars such as the viet nam war.
      and whatever little wierd terms you make up to mock people who oppose the use of drones to murder people in other countries, the US is fighting a “drone war” around the world. and the tech is not responsible; iot just enables the murderers who run the amerikan government.
      by the way, “new” is NOT scary; what is scary are poeple who fall for the lies and myths of the amerikan government concerning the “benefits” of waging robotic warfare on other people.

  • creaker

    It will quickly get regulated to allow money makers and the state to use it while restricting access to anyone else.

    Early on I remember a story where some amateur was using a drone to photograph illegal discharges of pollution from a factory – you know they will curtail this kind of use of the technology in pretty short order.

  • X Y & Z
    • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

      Obama is the first drone ace in the New War Against Humanity. Maybe he’ll award himself a military decoration! Hoober Doober.

  • Kathy

    I have no idea how much of the hyperbolic claims will come true, but right now, the FAA is being absolutely ridiculous in going after places using “drones” that are little more than toys.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    With Global Heating and sea level rise, perhaps the USA can conquer the trade world with the design & operation of drone submarines.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    He means contiguous US. The connected part. Alaska, my home state, is a part of the continental US. Since Alaska is on the continent: with Canada and Mexico.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Get injured by a drone: sue the pants off the operator AND the manufacturer. Good old fashion litigation: it works.* And it’s deadlier than flying aircraft.

    * Until Republicans in Congress exempt drones from litigation under.. cough, hack: tort reform.

  • Coastghost

    Can: the moral imperative of our applied sciences and technologies.
    Mere ability confers moral choice. Resistance is futile.

  • perihelion22

    BTW Tom, It’s “CHAMPING” at the bit”, not chomping.

  • perihelion22

    Regarding drones for package delivery. Bad idea. But Amerika is turning into a police state, so they will find a use. I’ll bet killer drones to kill other drones on on the horizon. When are we ever going to learn?

  • Jeff

    The pilots are there in case something goes wrong…most of commercial aircraft flight is done by automated systems. Some aircraft (i.e. B777) don’t even require you to ever touch the column/yoke and can automatically takeoff and land.

  • Coastghost

    Why is NO ONE petitioning for a complete domestic drone moratorium, indefinitely?
    Why do our sciences and technologies continually foist idiocy upon us, which we gullibly gorge on every opportunity we get?

  • Jeff

    Keep in mind pilot error is the cause of a lot of accidents…Horizon Dash 8-400 (crashed in New York) as well as the A330 (Air France) that crashed over the Atlantic Ocean were both pilot induced problems…the pilots did not recognize that the aircraft was stalling and continued to pull back on the yoke instead of pushing forward and gaining speed. Automated systems would NEVER cause issues like that.

  • NYC Documentarian

    Is the military, or anyone, inventing smart technology to shoot down drones and when can the public get ahold of it :)

    • Jeff

      It’s called a shotgun…just go to the gun range and practice a bit before taking a shot at a drone. You can be your own “smart technology” that happens to shoot down drones.

      • NYC Documentarian

        Shotgun range is at best 120 yards and they are not that smart at their maximum range.

      • jefe68

        I suspect skeet shooting might be more appropriate.

    • hennorama

      NYC Documentarian — very few UAVs are jet-powered, and therefore most are slow and easily downed with existing military weaponry.

      If you are talking about downing UAVs in US airspace, it’s likely “the public” (meaning you, of course) would have little or no right to do so.

      At present, property owners have a right to the airspace above their property that is below the minimum safe altitude of flight. This is a variable altitude, but generally is 500 ft. and above.

      However, a temporary violation of this airspace is likely at worst a trespass, which would not allow for “the public” to “shoot down drones” as you imply.

      • HonestDebate1

        I disagree. Trespassing is a serious offense. Once the possibility of inflicting personal harm is removed, I am not worried about shooting down any drone I see in my space. The technology exist to conclude any drone is a possible threat to my life. Bang.

  • Louis Gudema

    Drones will totally revive the “black helicopters” fear of government surveillance. They used to be a right wing conspiracy theory and urban myth, but now they could very much be real.

  • Coastghost

    “Technology-for-technology’s-sake” is at least as questionable a notion as “art-for-art’s-sake” ever was: but Tom Ashbrook does not raise the rationale for the automatic and unquestioning appropriation of technology his guests advocate.

  • hennorama

    Sen. Rand Paul doesn’t mind armed domestic drones, and using them to [essentially act as judge, jury, and executioner, in order to] kill criminals:

    “Here’s the distinction: I have never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an act of crime going on,” Paul said on Fox Business Network. “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him. But it’s different if they want to come fly over your hot tub or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone, and they want to watch your activities.”


    • harverdphd

      Call your reading teachers and tell them you want your money back.

      • X Y & Z


        • harverdphd

          Thanks….chickenrama is EASY.

          • X Y & Z

            Keep up the good work.

          • brettearle


      • hennorama

        harverdphd — thank you for your response.

        STFU. (Simple Trite Flimsy Umbrage)

        Thanks again.

        • harverdphd

          Cut the civility crap. You have just as much hate any any one of us. KMAOTBC

          • hennorama

            harverdphd — TY again FYR.

            Sorry you have mistaken my polite words for “hate.” Given your history, “hate” seems to be your MO, so perhaps you are incapable of understanding other forms of expression. Of course, as I am not a mental health professional, I couldn’t possibly comment.

            I infer from your post that you signed it with the acronym KMAOTBC, which clearly means Kooky Meek Acrimonious Odious Trollish Boneheaded Chowderhead.

            Please correct any misinference.

            Thanks again for your response.

          • brettearle

            Hennorama is up for consideration as On-Point’s Retort King for 2014.

            Of course, necessity is the motherf***er
            of invention–and therefore:

            It has already been determined–and the year is less than half way through–who has been crowned motherf***er of the Forum for 2014…..

          • hennorama

            brettearle — TYFYR, and your very kind? words.

            One question though: why is there an annual Forum crown for lying to one’s female parent?

          • brettearle

            to, or, with?

          • hennorama

            brettearle — TYFYR.

            I inferred your “motherf***er” meant “motherfibber.”

            Please correct any misinference.

            I suppose it could also be mother:


            or even,


            etc., etc., but those don’t seem to fit the context.

          • brettearle


          • hennorama

            brettearle — all of which have too many letters, dear sir.

            Here’s an easy way to cheat:


          • brettearle

            Do you know about the “Gossage-Vardebedian Papers”?

          • hennorama

            brettearle — No. Dare I ask?

            Yes, I dare. Please elaborate.

          • brettearle

            Our exchange above. and your scrabble-link, reminded me of it…..


      • Ray in VT

        Please enlighten us as to what you think may be hennorama’s difficulty with reading?

        • harverdphd

          ‘Samatta?..chickenrama can’t fight his own battles?

          • brettearle

            We don’t let him waste his talents on Riff-Raff.

          • Ray in VT

            I’ll take that as a no, then. Perhaps you merely have difficulty choosing words that accurately reflect your thoughts, which might explain your comment to hennorama. That’s what I’m going with.

        • jefe68

          It’s clear this guy is a jerk. It’s best to ignore him.

    • brettearle

      Paul’s comment about killing a robber, for 50 bucks, is absolute madness.

      How can `They’ let a potential serious candidate, for President, get away with it?

      On the other hand, in the interview, the Fox broadcaster points out something that may be constitutional:

      In the course of a probable-cause action [at that moment, in the interview, the interviewer used the example, of the pursuit of a crime when asking Paul the hypothetical], I believe that it is fair game for police to regard unexpected contraband or some other unanticipated illegal activity, as an actionable offense.

  • AliceOtter33

    I think it’s worth looking at how regulation of the use of military use of drones in that sphere necessarily affects the “wild west” drone technology within the U.S. and how it is already impacting private citizens.

    I can imagine U.S. citizens arguing for that their right to bear arms extends to use of small-scale armed drones to protect their private property. I can imagine one-on-one mini-wars between civilian neighbors.

    Other unintended consequences of lax regulation are already happening in the form of privacy violation and sexual harassment. A few days ago, a woman reported being harassed by a father and son flying a remote control plan equipped with a camcorder taking video of sunbathing women on a private beach.

    We need to nip this kind of stuff in the bud and it starts by deterrence through serious regulation of the big drones!



  • marygrav

    If Tom is not willing to talk with P.W. Singer about his book Wired For War, then anything or anybody he interviews is pure BS. Singer has been on On Point Radio on several occassion, but he was never interviewed about drowns. Why not?
    Left-wing radio is just as much propaganda based as Right-wing radio. Both promote fluff in the guise of news. I listen more to hear how the audience is manipulated than for the fluff.
    According to Singer a drown can be purchased at any air or military show in the Middle East. It seems the US free market will sell the enemy any weapons to kill US. Then crockadile tears are used to wash the blood away.

  • franciscoprk

    The “drone” which had the near miss with an airliner in Florida was blown out of proportion by the FAA. It was not a “drone”, it was described by the pilot as looking similar to an F-4 Phantom jet, and not like a helicopter that might hold a camera that many associate more closely with drones. These RC Models have gas engines and likely in this case, a turbine engine.

  • http://alchemicalreaction.blogspot.com/ Alchemical Reaction

    Drone Pollinators?

  • HonestDebate1

    This was an interesting show. One thing is for sure, the genie is out of the bottle.

    A decade or so ago we had a problem her at the farm with helicopters looking for pot. They would fly in extremely low, dipping and swooping this way and that. It made the horses crazy which was dangerous. I got on the phone and learned it was the SBI conducting training exercises. They were actually very cooperative an apologetic. I was informed a land owner owns the airspace 300 feet (I think) above their land. If that is true, I would think it would also apply with drones.

  • The poster formerly known as t

    I’m looking forward to…
    the first drone assisted school shooting…
    and the first drone assisted home invasion…
    and the first drone assisted religious activity…
    and last, but not least , the first drone assisted sex act.

    “That’s right, drones can love too, but you gotta pay
    if you want it THAT bad…”

  • The poster formerly known as t

    ” aerial photography and surveying of existing and new projects in China.”Sounds like an educated person’s way of saying spying.

  • Regular_Listener

    Just a word to OP’s producers/engineers – you all should look into ways to improve the quality of some of the connections. The first guest had a lot of interesting things to say, but seemed to be on a mobile phone with a poor-to-average connection. I was distracted by the cheap, tinny quality of the audio, and so did not get as much out of it as I could have. This is not the first time I have noticed this.

Aug 22, 2014
Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Florrissant, Mo. (AP)

The National Guard and Eric Holder in Ferguson. ISIS beheads an American journalist. Texas Governor Rick Perry gets a mug shot. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Aug 22, 2014
In this image from video posted on Facebook, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, former President George W. Bush participates in the ice bucket challenge with the help of his wife, Laura Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP)

The Ice Bucket Challenge: ALS, viral fundraising and how we give in the age of social media.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

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