Drones have been put firmly into the spotlight with recent news reports about events happening across the world. The usage of drones in surveillance and even targeted striking behind enemy lines placed the technology and the capability of drones in the spotlight and, as a result, many questions were raised about drones and their capabilities. One such question was “Can drones see inside your house?” This prompted the writing of this article in which we will deal with the question and the state of the technology.
This issue was raised as far back as April 2014 by state Rep. Chris Taylor in a news release after the acceptance by the Senate of the Wisconsin bill, aimed at placing limits on drone use by law enforcement agencies. She warned the public about possible attacks on their privacy using drone technology when she said that drone technology makes it possible to record individuals inside their homes using drones the size of birds, these recordings can then be uploaded onto the internet.
The Wisconsin bill which is similar to that of many others in the US was subsequently signed into law. This legislation aims to prohibit law enforcement agencies and private individuals from using drones to record people where they can reasonably expect to have privacy, like inside their homes. To use a drone to capture images or recordings inside the home of an individual citizen without a search warrant would be illegal for law enforcement agencies and no possibility exists that an individual would be granted permission to record individuals inside their house. Many countries worldwide have legislation protecting the privacy of their citizens and various aviation authorities have regulations dealing with the use of drones in the airspace. However, drones can be used by aerial photographers, entrepreneurs and hobbyists if their use doesn’t intentionally violate the privacy of an individual.
Drone technology can be used for both good and bad purposes, like any other technology, and the existence of laws won’t stop people who intend to break the law from doing so. Some of the first people who used drones to spy on others were paparazzi who tried to capture images of celebrities sunbathing at their private residences. This has spread to private individuals using drones to spy on others, prompting a Kentucky father to use a shotgun on a drone attempting to record his teenage daughter sunbathing.
The question is however not about the legal position but about the available drone technology. What is meant with a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)? The most acceptable definition is the following: “A drone is an unmanned aircraft that can be either remotely controlled or which can fly flight plans autonomously controlled by software embedded into their systems operating in conjunction with GPS and onboard sensors. Drones are controlled with remote ground control systems and have two parts, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) itself and the control system.”
Drones are made of light composite materials reducing their weight and increasing its maneuverability. Drones range in size, capability and performance in accordance with the difference in cost. They range from entry-level toys right up to the most sophisticated machines employing the latest available technology. It is important to realize that the ordinary person will generally only encounter drones which are used as toys, or leisure purposes like racing, photography or in a commercial situation, like construction or farming.
It is highly unlikely for a drone to be able to take a recording of what is inside your home without being detected because of the following: The drone must be positioned right outside a window, the glare and the props rotating would cause reflections that would make it very difficult to recognize any image recorded. The noise of the rotating props would make detection easy. The most logical answer would be, No drones can’t see inside your house. But is that really the position?
This might be the case with the entry-level drones but the truth is, there are drones that make use of technology that can see what is inside your house. The Israeli Tzur drone is one example of a drone that was specially designed to do just that. It has the capability to silently hover while it uses its cameras and thermal imagers to watch what is going on inside. The drone used by the Israeli military has a silent engine, excellent maneuverability, can hover stationary for extended periods of time, and uses stealth to avoid detection while it records inside the building.
There are more examples of drones like the bird size Dragonflyer X4-ES, AeroVironment Wasp used by police to conduct video surveillance before police operations. The AeroVironment Nano Hummingbird is a tiny drone resembling a live hummingbird with the capability to fly through an open doorway, hover and climb while it relays video to the operator. Weighing less than an AA battery.
Technology like Long Wave InfraRed sensors can easily be mounted on commercial drones see inside a home. Even toy and hobby drones can be relatively easy fitted with good quality HD cameras to make better imaging possible.
Existing technology reduced the expectation of privacy with people posting videos and photos all over social media with their phones. Drones can be used to turn this into surveillance of your home compromising WiFi protocols when it comes close enough to pick up the RF signals from a home router, allowing a hacker to get into all internet-connected devices. These devices normally have cameras and microphones which can be used to do surveillance and record what goes on inside your home.
Yes, certain drones can see inside your house. However, it is unlikely that a drone with the the technology to do this effectively and undetected would be owned by non-governmental or military agencies.