Drone Strikes in Ottawa

The Canadian capital contracts a man and his drone to scare off geese at the beach

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Sami Sarkis / Getty Images

Camera on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

The idea of a drone flying above our cities doesn’t exactly leave us with a sense of safety. Earlier this year citizens of New York were outraged when Mayor Bloomberg announced the possibility of drone use for aerial surveillance. Drones can be used to take photographs, or collect thermal imaging. But Ottawa has found a way to use drones to rid its beaches of a public nuisance: geese.

As geese invade the beaches and the greenery of Ottawa, Councillor Bob Monette called for drone strikes. He engaged Steve Wambolt, who built the prototype, made sure it was safe and ethical to use, then launched his hexcopter drone in order to scare away enough geese to reduce the flock to a tenth its previous size.

To be clear, however, the term drone may be somewhat inaccurate, if only for the reason that the term typically stirs images of a cobra-shaped, matte, metal machine tearing through the sky.  Wambolt’s drone, on the other hand, resembles a six-legged spider (hence the name hexcopter), and ultimately looks more like an airborne remote-control car acting like a scarecrow. This is not meant derisively, because his design (which cost the city $30,000 for a few months of work) does its job well, and has made the famous beaches of Ottawa once again visitable by humans.

Other endeavors similar to Monette and Wambolt’s have shown us the other side of drone technology. Not long ago Domino’s Pizza did a test flight of a drone pizza delivery, which seemed to go pretty well. Pizza by helicopter is such a charming idea that it even sounds like a gag on Futurama.  Similarly, Harvard recently developed small robo-bees, which can autonomously pollinate flowers.

Domestic drone use is not a black and white affair—it’s not either adorable bees and convenient pizzas, or thermal images of citizens. Drones have been used to track storms, protect wildlife and identify deforestation and poaching, and will help the Coast Guard make many more convictions.

Wambolt’s device may act like a fleet of Valkyries descending upon a pesky swarm of geese—geese that ruin fields, defecate everywhere, and make trips to the beaches of Ottawa a miserable experience. But the drone also raises an important question: what next? Will we be able to deliver medicines or meals to the sick and elderly with drones? Or, more importantly, a bouquet of flowers to a loved one on Valentine’s day? Will our grandchildren be racing drones in Central Park? These are not questions we can answer, but hints lie in the imagination of a man like Wambolt, who made an ingenious leap and actually solved a problem.

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