The bugs are coming on strong again in Florida and it looks like drones are too.
With two gardens to manage, I have to be diligent about spraying neem oil to keep hungry insects at bay. Recently, while working late at night on an old sprayer in the front yard, my son quietly said something that caught my attention.
What really caught my ear was his sudden drop in tone. I couldn’t understand what he said but could sense that something wasn’t quite right, so I ceased wrestling with the sprayer’s broken pump mechanism, looked up at his 6’2” frame in the dark of night and asked him to repeat himself.
He lurched forward, pointed behind me and whispered a little louder, “Dad, there’s a drone behind you.”
The statement caught me totally off-guard. Here I am in the heat of battle, determined to get this old sprayer back in action to attack a bunch of bugs that are eating up my tomato plants when I’m hit with the news that there’s a drone behind me like some huge, menacing mosquito.
Too strange. Any thoughts I had of drop-kicking the sprayer quickly vanished as I turned around and saw a black drone buzzing in the neighbor’s yard about thirty yards away.
We’re in a fairly rural area with the bayou on one side and a lot of property on the other. There aren’t a lot of kids around and this thing was slowly rising, its unflinching red eye staring at us, with tree branches on either side. It took some serious dexterity to keep it from striking a branch as it made its ascent like some miniaturized Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I shined my beaming LED headlight on it. If nothing else, its camera would have a tough time processing that. It seemed to have gotten the operator’s attention. The mechanical mosquito left the neighbor’s yard and came into ours as if to up the ante.
It was closer now but not for long. It went straight up, flew over the house and headed over to the nearby woods where it hovered for a while, high above the trees, its small red light staring back at us. I guess I could have gotten my .22 pellet rifle and taken a shot at it. The thought definitely crossed my mind. It would have been much safer than an actual firearm. But this was our first meeting and I thought I’d let the operator—probably a curious neighbor—keep his drone intact for now.
After a minute or two, the thing buzzed off over the bayou. We haven’t seen it since. The whole experience reminded me of how quickly privacy and security can be undermined by fast-evolving technology. It’s one thing to keep your online activity protected especially in the wake of these high profile and costly corporate computer hacks, but the skies too?
Having your home, yard or business surveilled without your consent is obviously wrong. But you might not even know that it's happening. Night vision cameras can capture plenty of video under the cover of darkness. Then there’s the notion of ultra-sensitive cameras. Facial recognition technology seemed like a safe bet, but now I’m second-guessing that option as high-tech cameras continue to hit the market.
Cameras can certainly be helpful. Fleets continue to be vindicated in accidents where camera footage provides exonerating evidence. Autonomous drones can be used to scan roads and bridges that may be in need of repair. But what if we’re not the ones in control of the camera? What kind of liability does that pose? Should we all have an unflinching eye turned on at all times, just in case?
While this was probably a benign drone visit from a bored neighbor across the bayou, camera tech is constantly being improved and mining plenty of info. What happens with a lot of that video and imagery is anyone’s guess.