Killer quadcopters

Four years ago, Kyle Myers uploaded a video to his YouTube channel, FPSRussia, which shocked the public and drew attention from military and police forces the world over. In the video, Myers introduces us to a relatively large quadcopter, with props perhaps three or four times the diameter of those of most commercial quadcopters seen at sites such as The reason for this is the amount of lift the quadcopter needs to generate in order to lift its payload – a video camera and an unidentified submachine gun, perhaps an Uzi.

Myers tells us how he has named his new invention ‘Charlene’, before showing us how he controls it using a tablet app. After liftoff, he explains how the tablet relays the images beamed from the quadcopter’s camera, which features crosshairs aligned with the submachine gun. He goes on to execute an aerial attack on a group of cardboard model people, showing how Charlene barely suffers from any recoil from its rapid firing gun. After the cardboard models are well and truly destroyed, Myers flies the quadcopter over to an old car. After shooting out its back window, he guides Charlene into the car through the broken window and remotely detonates an on-board bomb, fitted for self-destruct purposes, which also has the effect of blowing up the car, which presumably still had a good amount of gas in its tank.

The resulting uproar saw his video reposted on gun enthusiast, securityand military forums around the world – while some denounced it as a fake, it was also reported that the FBI was now very interested in getting a hold of Myers for a friendly chat. It has since been reported that around 40 FBI officers did indeed perform a raid on Myer’s Georgia compound, although it is not known whether or not it was carried out in relation to ‘Charlene’.

Since then, numerous gun and copter enthusiasts have spent time and effort carrying out further weaponization of quadcopters. Last year a video surfaced of a similar sized, more clearly more lightweight and agile quadcopter, fitted with a semi auto handgun, firing off rounds without causing any apparent difficulties to its flight.

Such developments have caused a general uproar among parts of the population which feel that firearms are already too pervasive in society, and, rather than applaud the technical achievements of their developers, choose to publicly abuse them and call them irresponsible. Their fear is that such weapons could one day get into the hands of people who wish to commit murder and aggravated assault with a weapon, with impunity.

The anti-gun people aren’t the only ones who are concerned about the weaponization of quadcopters, however. Commercial users of quadcopters, who have been in continual struggles with the FAA, local police forces and state legislators, regarding the balance between privacy, safety and commercial interests in business varying from farming to real estate, fear that the gains they have made will be rolled back in light of the public’s fear of flying guns.

For the moment, however, it is unlikely that would-be armed robbers and other criminals will be able to make effective use of the ‘killer quadcopters’. While they do have the range to make this a reality – having a radius of up to ten miles – they simply cannot carry powerful enough batteries to carry their own weight for so long. It’s a genuine Catch-22 situation for developers – in order to fly for more than a few minutes carrying their heavy payloads, they must carry more powerful, high-capacity batteries. Such batteries, however, are heavy themselves and ruin the quadcopter’s power to weight ratio. Until a solution is found, the gun-fearing masses can rest in their beds at night.

Or perhaps not. As more than one observer has pointed out, if private citizens are able to create flying guns which work so well, it is highly likely that the Military-Industrial Complex, with all its resources, brainpower and huge financial resources, has already developed its own flying guns. We see unmanned drones, admittedly on a much larger scale, dropping their payloads in the Middle East. Police departments around the country are already making use of quadcopters to help search for missing people and fugitives, being fitted with infrared cameras, night vision and so on. How long will it be until we hear of the first shooting carried out by a police quadcopter? Perhaps sooner than many think.