Another day, another drone shot down
An inspection mission ended tragically for a drone in the USA recently, when it was shot down allegedly by a local resident.
The drone – a DJI Mavic 2 Pro – was flying along a powerline in the Sayre area in Bradford County in Pennsylvania, conducting an inspection along a powerline on behalf of the Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative.
Powerline inspection has been one of the industrial applications where drone technology has been welcome, as the unmanned vehicles can use their powerful cameras to check the state of the powerline infrastructure, detect defects and also check whether vegetation might be growing to close to the power lines.
Prior to the advent of drones, engineers used to physically climb up the lines themselves in bucket trucks, an undertaking that was a fatal occupational hazard.
Sadly, it seems the danger has only been transferred from the humans to machines, as the Mavic Pro on an inspection mission in Pennsylvania last month can testify.
In a statement, Pennsylvania State police confirmed being called to respond to an incident in September, where a drone operator for Exelon Business Services – which had been contracted by the Claverack electricity company to carry out the inspection – reported the disappearance of his drone, following what sounded like multiple gun shots in the area where the drone was last active.
“The Pennsylvania State police investigated an incident that occurred,” the statement read in part, adding that the drone had been reported missing around lunchtime.
“A company contracted through Claverack to inspect their utility poles was using remote drones to inspect the poles. One of the operators lost contact with their drone after hearing multiple gun shots in the area.”
Alarmed, the operator called the local police, who immediately arrived to conduct a search in the area. As it turned, they did not have to go far.
“A check of the nearly residence where they last had contact with the drone resulted in the drone being located in a trash can in the rear of the house. The home owner admitted to putting the drone (in the trash can) and did not want to discuss how it happened.”
The 55-year-old home owner, Gregory Ferro, was arrested on charges of criminal mischief, and his case will be heard at local courts soon. Criminal mischief cases in the USA can result in punitive damages of $1,000 in addition to real damages incurred by the plaintiff, which in this case would be around $2,000.
The USA is the largest drone market in the world; however, some people in the have chosen the suspicion route when it comes to drone technology, on the arguments that drones are both a security risk and a threat to their privacy.
The federal government may also have a hand in entrenching this dim view; in 2017, the Trump Administration ordered the grounding of almost all the over 800 federal drones of Chinese origin and relation in 2017, on allegations that the drones where on a spying mission on behalf of Beijing.
Just this weekend, the Trump administration’s Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, appeared on national television, criticising the current government’s decision to re-engage with DJI – the world’s biggest commercial drone manufacturer – with a view to bring back their products into federal employ.
“Yes, those reports are accurate as reflected,” Ratcliffe said when asked by Fox News if the USA government was buying drones from China again. “The Biden administration, through the FBI and Secret Service purchased (drones) from DJI, a company which the Trump Administration flagged in 2017. The Department of Homeland Security said that specific company was using drone for the purpose of providing information on US critical infrastructure to the Chinese Communist Party. There was moderate confidence that this was taking place, which is why our administration basically took (all the DJI drones) out and advanced a policy where we would not use that type of Chinese technology.
“Also, Chinese drone technology is not as good as US drone technology.”
In July, a drone belonging to Lake County Sheriff’s Office in Florida was destroyed when a man sprayed bullets on it. The drone had flown in the vicinity of his property while investigating a possible burglary at the time; but 50-year-old Wendell Goney argued that he thought the drone had been sent to harass him.