From kids to cops, drone use on the rise in Minnesota
It sneaks side to side like it’s fidgeting, then spins around a running course, turning and swaying and seemingly having a great time.
“I can make him do anything!” 14-year-old Jack marveled at a mall of America drone racing center in Bloomington.
Indeed, drones can do just about anything: deliver packages, find lost children, bring a new sport to millions of fans.
Drones now fly over sporting events and concerts. Teenagers race drones at 20 high schools in Minnesota. Colleges are launching drone courses.
Jack’s drone is one of 3.5 million recreational drones sold this year, in addition to approximately 2 million larger drones registered with the federal government.
Drones are good for something else: espionage. Even with layers of laws that protect privacy, privacy advocates say the temptation to use drones to spy may be too strong to resist.
Regardless of the laws, privacy watchdogs say drones can be used to identify and intimidate protesters. And even though it’s illegal, anyone with $ 40 can buy a drone and spend evenings staring out of neighborhood windows.
“The powers of the state are multiplied exponentially by this technology,” said Chris Weyland, co-chair of Restore the Fourth, a nonprofit privacy advocacy organization. “I don’t know if we are ready to live in a world where the local sheriff has the same technology as Iran, Iraq or the NSA.
The popularity of drones is increasing with technological advancements. Today’s smallest drone is the size of a deck of cards, according to Logan Noess, owner of Vertex Unmanned Solutions. This is the DGI Maverick Mini, popular with drone racers.
The biggest drone? Several models can locate a drowning person in a lake and bring them to safety, with a capacity of up to 500 pounds.
Drones can be equipped with thermal imaging, useful for counting deer or finding a hunter lost in the dark.
“The growth is absolutely crazy,” said Aaron Sykes, organizer of the Minnesota Autonomous Vehicles Meetup, a 1,000-member nonprofit. Sykes said the drones were at a critical point. Training of drones entering colleges and vocational schools.
“If you’re in construction, you’ll be using drones. If you have a degree in agriculture, you will study your fields with drones, ”said Sykes.
He speaks, with admiration, about a sport in high school in California: the underwater drone competition.
“It’s no longer a dream. Drones are used everywhere, ”said Sykes.
The drones were boosted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Drone racing is the only sport in high school that hasn’t been canceled,” said Marty Wetherall, co-owner of the RdyTechGo drone center at the mall and organizer of the 12-state youth drone sports championships.
Last year, as football and basketball games waned, drone racing became a socially distant sport.
Wetherall’s 2-year program now includes high schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Eagan, Apple Valley, and Blaine.
Cody Anderson, 16, flies a drone at RdyTechGo, inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, May 13, 2021. Anderson is a student at Apple Valley High School. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press
Players can meet at RdyTechGo for an in-person competition. Or they can build standardized running routes at home and compete online with other runners who have built their own running routes.
“Last night we had a race between a woman in Pennsylvania, one in Sacramento and one in Apple Valley,” Wetherall said in April.
The Atlas of Surveillance lists 38 Minnesota sheriff and police departments using drones, but not in St. Paul or Minneapolis.
They are equipped with projectors and speakers, useful when looking for lost people. Woodbury’s new $ 39,000 drone can fly at 52 mph and stay aloft for 55 minutes.
Police find drones indispensable – as a cheaper and faster alternative to helicopters. The Minnesota State Patrol uses its drones for accident investigations.
In Woodbury, a drone purchased in March will be used to locate lost people, direct operations during fires and natural disasters, and investigate crimes and accidents.
It will not be used to spy on ordinary citizens, the police Cmdr said. John Altman.
He said drones cannot be used inside a building. There will be no random patrols – the police must look for a specific event or crime when they use them.
Altman said drones are less invasive than Google Street View, which creates panoramic photos of public streets taken at eye level.
Drones can be used to spot criminals, such as people setting fires during an otherwise peaceful protest.
That’s when privacy advocates start to worry. For them, the ability to pick faces from a crowd is a bullying tactic. People who do not want to be photographed by the police – whether or not they are criminals – may not be as likely to protest publicly.
Of course, drones do the same thing as helicopters: photograph from the air. They do the same thing as a handheld camera that the police could use to photograph a crowd.
But restoring the Weyland from the fourth is like comparing a kitchen knife to a chainsaw.
Drones paired with facial recognition software are incredibly fast at identifying people by their faces.
In China, drones disguised as birds are used to spot racial minorities, including Muslims. China can now photograph and register 500,000 new faces per month, according to a New York Times article.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how the US police could use technology to fly over crowds and identify each person.
“Nothing is as sinister as not being able to tell a private drone from a police drone,” Weyland said. “It has a deterrent effect if the police have that authority. “
The law is the only safeguard against drone espionage, according to Ben Feist, director of programs for the Minnesota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. Feist said he didn’t think there was anything to worry about from local police departments.
The ACLU lobbied for a bill that was passed last year limiting the use of drones. It requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge before using a drone to inspect private property. It requires cities to have a written policy on the use of drones before they can use them.
Cody Anderson changes the rechargeable batteries of his drone. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press
Weyland said a police drone is supposed to stop recording when it hovers over a house. Never, he said, should a drone be used to sweep an area in anticipation of a crime. The crime must be imminent or ongoing and pose a threat to public health.
Recreational drones can pose the same problem. There are laws protecting privacy – the same laws that prevent a voyeur from looking out your window.
In Minnesota, there are no known cases of residents complaining of amateur drone spying. Yet, because drones are faster, easier to use, and nearly undetectable, the potential threat is multiplied.
“If there’s a guy on a ladder looking over my fence, I know what he’s doing,” said Feist of the ACLU. But how do you know if a neighbor is using a drone to monitor them?
This question was asked to RdyTechGo on May 13th.
“Oh, I do this all the time,” one teenager shrugged.
He regularly visits the neighborhood.
“I fly drones under their bridges – nothing interests them,” he said. “But if they had an open window, I could fly into their homes.”
If you are going to
The national high school drone racing tournaments take place June 5-6. To watch or for lineup information, visit youthdronesports.org or visit RdyTechGo at the Mall of America.