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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Arming the Karens

9 Jul 2024

There is a real discussion going on in the drone community right now.

As we've seen on our screens, FPV drones have become a crucial part of the war in Ukraine and as a result of this, governments around the world are beginning to pour huge sums into acquiring these craft.

Why spend half a million on a surface-to-surface missile when a $500 drone can deliver a devastating payload with pinpoint accuracy but with the added bonus that a footsoldier can throw it in their backpack?

I guess that every kind of tool ever invented eventually makes its way into the theatre of war and recreational multirotor drones are no different.

However, this issue is dividing a formerly tight-knit community.

One US-based recreational drone company, Rotor Riot, was purchased a while back by a company called RedCat.

RedCat is an umbrella group that has acquired a bunch of drone-related companies over the years, including FatShark who were at one time the world's leading supplier of FPV goggles and Teal Drones which was a family-friendly camera-drone maker.

Like most US corporations, RedCat's primary goal is to return the maximum amount of profit to stock-holders and it saw the potential of the militarisation of drone tech some time ago. As a result of this, they've turned Teal Drones from a family-friendly hobby drone company into a supplier of reconnaissance and tactical multirotor drones to the US military -- quite a switch.

Now they've announced that Rotor Riot is providing technology to sister company Teal Drones in order that they can add "strike" capability to their drone line-up.

Yep, they're weaponising the very FPV drones that thousands of Americans fly every day as a safe and fun hobby.

As a result of this move, the hobby community has become quite divided.

Some have announced that they are going to be boycotting Rotor Riot and their products due to their (now) military associations. Others have said "bah... it was bound to happen anyway" and just carried on as normal.

It can't be denied however, that this is a really bad look for the hobby and those who enjoy it.

Suddenly, that FPV drone buzzing around an old deserted building or performing graceful aerobatics down at the local park differs from a weapon of war only in the payload it carries. The exact same design is being sold for hobby use and also as a "strike drone" by members of the RedCat group.

It becomes much harder to deflect the ire of an anti-drone Karen when she can quite rightly scream at the top of her voice, while pointing at your toy, "that is a weapon", due to this arrangement.

I predict that it won't be long, in light of this, that even harsher restrictions and regulations are imposed on FPV drones -- at least in the USA. Even though almost anyone can walk into a Walmart and buy a firearm in the USA, FPV drones will be seen as a far greater threat to national security and public safety by the ignorant and ill-informed.

And speaking of ill-informed, I have in my posession a letter on US Concressional letterhead in which it's claimed that DJI's drones continue to collect sensitive data harmful to the USA's national security, even when they're turned off. That data, it is claimed in the letter, is then sent to servers in countries like Taiwan where they believe the Chinese government has access to it.

It's kind of scary that US popliticians are so gullible and appear to be totally unaware of the geopolitical situation between China and Taiwan.

Still, I guess if you look at the calibre of the two US presidential candidates it becomes very clear that there is a very low bar to entry when it comes to US politics so we ought not be surprised.

As for me -- well the local council has already banned me from flying *everywhere* they possibly can so I'll continue to zoom around my own house with my FPV drone -- until the SWAT team arrives.

Carpe Diem folks!

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