Amazon Could Make Sci-Fi Surveillance Drones An Everyday Reality
While Amazon’s much-anticipated delivery drones have yet to drop off a single package in the real world, one of the world’s largest tech companies is already plotting its next drone-related move. Amazon recently filed for a series of patents in the United States that could theoretically allow the company to use its yet-to-be-released drones for aerial surveillance.
This story has been treated as breaking news over the past couple of days, but in reality, the patent was initially filed in June 2015, well before it became public earlier this month. The document itself outlines a method for how Amazon delivery drones could be hired on-demand to scan for specific home security events, ranging from graffiti to property damage.
It appears that the company is looking to use this new technology to improve the customer experience, but it can be difficult for casual observers to move past the “creepy factor” automatically associated with innovations like these. For example, take the recent controversies surrounding facial recognition technology (which we detailed on this blog a few weeks ago). If the very thought of using facial recognition technology led San Francisco to implement an outright ban on the technology, it’s hard to envision a world where commercial surveillance drones receive a warm welcome.
With this being said, it is important to note that drones have been used for surveillance over the past few decades, typically by militaries and other government organizations focused on national security. However, the thought of a company developing a drone-based surveillance-as-a-service was mostly unheard of before Amazon released information surrounding its newest drone patents.
Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that this service would entail a dystopian-type level of drone surveillance. Instead, Amazon believes that there is a market for on-demand home security services powered by drone video footage, and these patents show that the company isn’t afraid to place a bet on this idea.
Instead of dozens of drones hovering aimlessly and recording everything they see below, Amazon’s proposed surveillance drone service would allow customers to pay for drone visits on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. Under this model, drones would be outfitted with night vision cameras and microphones to allow customers a better understanding of the activities going on around their properties. This may still sound like a creepy sci-fi movie to some readers, which is precisely why the company is taking additional steps to ensure privacy.
Amazon’s patent works to directly address the understandable concern for privacy by detailing features such as geo-fencing technology, which would help to ensure that drones don’t accidentally capture footage of the wrong house or property. Additionally, the potential for editing images during capture is mentioned, which could theoretically mean that areas not approved for surveillance would be automatically blurred out by the drone’s camera.
These patents clearly represent a unique idea and could pose a privacy concern if successfully implemented. However, just because a company like Amazon files a patent doesn’t mean that the product detailed is coming to market (remember those “worker cage” patents?). For now, we will have to wait and see what becomes of this new spin on drone technology.