There was some kerfuffle this week over a video that showed a quadcopter with a mounted handgun. The only question I had when I saw it was: “Why not sooner?”. As in, how is it that we’ve not already heard of people being killed by these things?
A possible answer is that, done right, a drone hit would be nigh-on impossible to solve, or even identify as such.
Consider first the equipment. While it’s possible to buy a ready-to-fly drone with a nice gimbal mounted camera for about £1,000, it’s also possible to build one for a good deal less. Mounting a gun on such a thing is relatively trivial, assuming you have ready access to handguns. Similarly, the skills to program these things to do clever stuff are relatively common and easy to acquire. Batteries are readily available to allow arbitrarily long flight durations.
So: say I want to kill you. In the olden days I need to be somewhere where you are, in line of sight, and get close enough to you, myself, to put a bullet through you. Now, “close enough” is a relative concept. For the right person with the right weapon, a mile and a half is close enough. But that takes a special weapon and a great deal of skill… plus a line of sight. I don’t have time to get that good.
Now, assuming you at some point come out into the open, all I need to know is where you are. I can sit a mile away, out of sight. I can be the other side of any arbitrary barrier – a fence, a wall, a forest or river – and send my gun-equipped drone to loiter over the location. Sitting two or three thousand feet above the ground it is invisible and inaudible to anyone on the ground. You’d have no reason to suspect it’s there. I sit and watch through the onboard camera until you come outside – to get in your car to go to work, say. When I see you, I press a button. At that point, my drone’s rotors all stop. It drops, silently, to the ground like a rock. Again, you have no suspicion it’s there. A few feet from the ground, the rotors re-engage and arrest the fall. Now, finally, you have a clue something is up. There’a a noisy device about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage, hovering steady as a rock in front of you. I can see you through the onboard camera, complete with a cross hair. A minor adjustment on a joystick controlling a gimbal, and I push another button, and a bullet goes where the crosshair is pointing. Casings ejected from the gun (assuming it’s a semi-automatic) are collected on board the drone rather than dropped. I do this a couple more times to make sure, then press one more button. Following a pre-programmed routine, the drone engages all four rotors on full power and shoots straight up at about 80mph. In a matter of three to five seconds, it is out of sight. I switch off the controller, and it automatically returns to its launch point. I put it in the boot of my car and drive home. You’ve been shot, but at the scene there is absolutely no forensic evidence of anything – no footprints, no DNA, no fibres, no casings. The only thing I’ve left behind are the bullets in your body.
None of that is anything that you couldn’t do with drones that are already available to buy for cheap off the internet. Living in the UK, the only part that would be hard to do would be getting hold of the handgun. In other countries it’s harder to buy the drone parts than the gun. This is such an easy, cheap and above all unsolvably safe way to kill people I’m only surprised that organised crime or for that matter hobbyist nutters aren’t already doing it in droves.