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Drones Around Town

Drones bomb people in Pakistan. They make “targeted attacks” in Yemen. A recent piece on “Drone Strikes and the Boston Marathon Bombing” on The Atlantic’s website argues that drone strikes have “probably made this kind of terrorism — home-grown terrorism, committed by longtime residents of America — more likely.”

You might have seen a drone, a “quadrocopter” to be precise, flying around Eugene. The city of Eugene recently posted a video about “city robots” that discusses sewer bots that look for problems with storm and wastewater lines, the Eugene Police Department’s bomb robot and city building inspectors’ quadrocopter — an unmanned aerial vehicle. 

Some argue the word drone applies only to vehicles that fly on their own without human control and others point out that drone is used to refer the U.S. military’s Predator drone that is controlled by a ground team often thousands of miles away. 

“A drone is a drone no matter what they call it,” says Michael Carrigan of the Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC). “I say no drones with cameras until they pass a city ordinance that either bans their use or tightly regulates how they’re used. The public must be involved in the regulatory process from start to finish.”

Stuart Holderby, lead structural inspector for Eugene’s Building and Permit Services, says in the video that the drone is already in use, and he demonstrates its camera and ability to fly up, down, back and forward. He says it can be launched from anywhere and stresses that it is used “only with prior approval from the contractors and on commercial buildings.” 

But drone opponents question what would stop the Eugene police from just borrowing a city drone if they felt it was needed.

Aria Seligmann of the Eugene No Drone Coalition says that “30 percent of all drones crash. You don’t want one falling on your head.” She says that while drones can be useful, “the problem with their use is in the mentality of the user.” Seligmann questions what would happen if “drones get into the hands of the wrong type of people who don’t care about civil rights, such as the right to privacy.” She adds, “I can imagine it would be easy for someone to cross the line when using drones for surveillance.” 

Seligmann says she has been keeping an eye on the bills SB 71 and HB 2710 in the Oregon Legislature. “If the state passes restrictions on drone use, we should be OK, unless the bills are watered down.” She says the idea is to make sure residents’ civil rights are protected, with no illegal surveillance without a warrant and no targeted drone strikes against living creatures from humans to wolves. 

If the state bills don’t pass or are watered down, Seligmann says the No Drone Coalition has a draft resolution to work on and then present to the Eugene City Council for review and passage. The city drone video can be seen at http://wkly.ws/1gg.