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Experts slam technology: "deeply disturbing," "will maim and kill"


Steve Watson

June 18, 2014

A drone that is capable of firing 400 rounds of pepper spray and paint balls, as well as employing “blinding lasers” and loudspeakers to deter protesters has been developed and sold to an undisclosed company following a demonstration at a trade show in London.

Reports indicate that an undisclosed mining company in South Africa has purchased 25 of the “Skunk riot control copter” devices developed by military surveillance and communications contractor Desert Wolf.

The company’s website describes the drone as being “equipped with 4 high-capacity paint ball barrels firing at up to 20 bullets per second each, with 80 Pepper bullets per second stopping any crowd in its tracks.”

“The current hopper capacity of 4000 bullets and High Pressure Carbon Fiber Air system it allows for real stopping power.” the description continues. “Bright strobe lights, blinding Lasers and with on-board speakers enables communication and warnings to the crowd,” the company also notes.

Defence Web notes that the eight-rotored drone also has high definition and thermal vision cameras, and comes with a ground control station to be operated by two people.

Desert Wolf’s director, Hennie Kieser, notes that the operators will be monitored by a camera and microphone, to ensure that they are not ” too aggressive”.

Exactly who will be watching them on the camera and listening to them on the microphone is not explained.

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The BBC reports that a batch of the drones is to be deployed this month by mine owners in South Africa, where worker strikes and protests have led to violence.

Desert Wolf says that the drone’s initial deployment will lead to more orders from police and security companies. Technological and worker’s right experts, on the other hand, are not so happy with the development.

“This is a deeply disturbing and repugnant development and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations,” said International Trade Union Confederation spokesman Tim Noonan.

“We will be taking this up as a matter of urgency with the unions in the mining sector globally,” he added, vowing to discover exactly who has purchased the machines.

Noel Sharkey, chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control campaign group, described the technology as a facilitation of “creeping authoritarianism and the suppression of protest”.

“Firing plastic balls or bullets from the air will maim and kill,” Sharkey said.

“Using pepper spray against a crowd of protesters is a form of torture and should not be allowed. We urgently need an investigation by the international community before these drones are used.” he added.

Guy Martin, the editor of Defence Web, described the drone as “a logical next step in the development of UAVs,” adding “but nevertheless it is a watershed moment in their evolution and goes to show that UAVs have almost unlimited uses.”

“I predict that we will see a whole new wave of UAVs emerging with payloads more unusual than tasers, dart guns and paint ball guns.” Martin added.

Weaponised drones have long been on the horizon. Both government and private companies have considered the development of the technology. When a taser drone was developed and displayed by a hobbyist in Texas recently, both military and police departments expressed interest, unaware that it was purely a publicity stunt aimed at raising awareness of and debate surrounding such technology.

The technology conjures up memories of the flying saucer spy drones from the 1988 dystopian cult classic movie They Live. Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report also features drone robots that can administer electrical shocks to suspects. The opening of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four also features the idea of police flying overhead and snooping into homes. With guns fitted to such devices, as these developers have demonstrated, this nightmare vision is set to become a shocking reality.