Small robot drone for monitoring political demonstrations

At a robotics industry trade show in Washington, D.C. recently one of the corporate vendors, AEE Technology based in Shenzhen, China, unveiled its small drone aircraft, the F50, advertised to be  especially good "as a tool for monitoring protests."

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the device is "about the size of a pizza pan" and shows "the burgeoning international competition in the market for unmanned aerial vehicles and military robots." 

Although a drone for watching people who gather in public to express their views  may seem ominous defenders of free speech, the drift of opinion at the show had a more upbeat, market oriented slant.  Thus, P.W. Singer, author of the book Wired for War, observed, "The market for military robotics has gone global, and China is looking to be a major producer and exporter in that market, just like the U.S."

To my way of thinking, Singer's statement  is a good example of how an academic can become a flack for the arms industry.  Indeed, at a conference I attended this summer, Singer enthusiastically regaled an audience of philosophers with news of  the burgeoning field of "killer apps" in the robotic arms race, and then asked the crowd to ponder "the ethical implications" of these things.  How uplifting.

The road to slaughter and, now, police surveillance is paved by very clever, well paid intellectuals with seemingly noble intentions.  From the WSJ  story: "Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said China's interest in developing unmanned aircraft as a tool for policing crowds or responding to emergencies was 'totally understandable, and legitimate.'"

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From now on a new dimension -- one might even call it an "innovation" -- will be added to attempts to exercise the right of free speech and assembly worldwide -- fear of drone aircraft hovering overhead.