Just a Drone Prank or Signs of the Times in the Bay Area?

Monday, July 22, 2013
(photo: CBS)

The New York Times reported last November that BMW Designworks USA in Newbury Park, California, had designed a pilotless drone for law enforcement that would be able to disable a law-breaking vehicle with an electromagnetic pulse.

The E-Patrol (Human-Drone Pursuit Vehicle), like other entries in the annual Design Challenge at the Los Angeles auto show, could be ready for deployment in 2025.

But if signs popping up across the Bay Area are to be believed, the drones are already here. Black and white reflective signs that look just like the real thing, often sitting below an actual speed limit sign, have a stark warning for drivers: “Speed enforced by drones.” One was first spotted on Highway 37, attached with tamper-resistant bolts, and a couple of others were found attached to poles with metal straps.

Drones are best known for their use by the military for surveillance and delivering missile attacks on targets in Afghanistan and the Mideast. But they are increasingly being used for domestic border patrol and by local law enforcement.   

California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Barclay told CBS that the signs were a distraction for drivers, but assured the reporter that it was all a farce.

“At CHP we definitely do not have drones. We use radar, lidar, pace, we have planes and we have helicopters, but we do not have drones,” Barclay said. But then he offered this curiously vague contradiction. “Along with not having drones we definitely do not have any drones that would fire any type of weaponry.”

OK. They don’t have drones, but if they do, which they don’t, they definitely don’t have weapons. Those kinds of assertions are just enough to push skeptics and cynics, like those at Alex Jones’ Inforwars.com, to warn that “that removing the human element from law enforcement could lead to people being summarily executed.”

That probably won’t happen before 2025, unless the participants in the Design Challenge accelerate their programs. Their task was to predict what highway patrol cars would look like in that year, and while each one offered a unique approach to the challenge, many emphasized a robotic quality.

The winner was the Subaru Highway Automated Response Concept (SHARC), a vehicle with aquatic capabilities designed with Hawaii’s highway patrol in mind.

–Ken Broder    


To Learn More:

Fake Signs On Bay Area Highways Say Drones Looking For Speeders (CBS Bay Area)

Freeway Drones for a Futuristic Highway Patrol (by Phil Patton, New York Times)

Armed Drones to Patrol Highways by 2025 (by Paul Joseph Watson, InfoWars.com)

Here’s Who’s Buying Drones: Are Local Cops Watching You from the Sky? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

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