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Should we use drones to prevent animal abuse?

Mon, 11/11/2013 - 11:06am
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Hunters beware: PETA may be watching you — or rather, its “customers” will if they purchase a specially modified Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 to “spy on hunters and catch them in the act as they terrorize animals and break game laws.”

The animal-rights organization introduced the “Air Angels” drone on its site in an effort to cut down on “illegal” hunting activities or anything it deems immoral (keeping in mind, of course, that PETA considers all forms of hunting, fishing, owning pets, and eating animals immoral).

“PETA's drones will help protect wildlife by letting hunters know that someone may be watching — and recording — them, so they should think twice before illegally killing or maiming any living being," says PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk.

“Wildlife watchers” can “make a huge difference by exposing hunters' dirty secrets,” she said.

The Air Angels are derivatives of the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 with a spiffy new paint job. The Parrot AR.Drone series, if you recall, was briefly the hottest consumer device on the market after it debuted at CES 2010.

You controlled the AR.Drone via an iOS or Android operating system on mobile and tablet devices. Measuring approximately 52.5 x 51.5 cm (with hull), the drone also included a 3-axis accelerometer, 2-axis gyroscope, and a 1-axis yaw precision gyroscpope. It ran on Linux, and the unit — which features an ARM9 RISC 32 BITS – 468 MHZ processor — communicated with the user courtesy of a self-generated WI-Fi hotspot @ 802.11b/g.

A 90-minute charge of the lithium polymer battery (3 cells, 11.1V, 1000 mAh) would propel the unit for approximately 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the drone included two cameras — the front camera included a 93 degree wide-angle diagonal lens with CMOS sensor, video frequency of 15 fps, and camera resolution of 640x480 pixels (VGA). The vertical camera (i.e., the high-speed camera) achieved a video frequency of 60 fps with a resolution of 176x144 pixels (QCIF).

Version 2.0 significantly upgraded these specs, with a 720p 30 fps HD camera, 92 degree diagonal wide-angle lens, and low-latency streaming. It included a 1GHz 32 bit ARM Cortex A8 processor with 800MHz video DSP and an upgraded version of Linux, and the stability was increased with a 3-axis gyroscope and 3-axis magnetometer, along with an air-pressure sensor.

Suffice to say, but this nifty little toy makes a potent — not to mention frightening and potentially illegal — tool in PETA’s arsenal.

On its site, PETA notes the following, which hints at the possible legal ramifications:

“While hunters hide in trees or pretend to be ducks in order to inflict harm, hobby drone operators who are always careful not to interfere with wildlife or hunters just may end up saving lives.” (emphasis mine)

In Massachusetts, for example, it is illegal to “obstruct, interfere with or otherwise prevent the lawful taking of fish or wildlife by another at the locale where such activity is taking place.” If you fly a drone above a hunter, you not only present a tempting (and slow-moving) target, but you could go to jail or pay a hefty fine.

Legal or not, the notion of spying on hunters with a flimsy toy helicopter sounds like a very bad idea. And this is to say nothing of PETA’s tactics and underlying motivations. Whether you agree with their mission or not, PETA has literally placed itself in the line of fire. And hunters already have game wardens as a check on illegal activities.

Will these Air Angels be anything more than a nuisance? “marcdepiolenc”, a user on the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance website, has some insight:

“I'm pretty sure they'll catch hunters committing at least one offense — mooning the drone.”

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