November 24th, 2015

From Fear to Maker Faire: Two Years of Normalizing the Drone

Drone and Joan 50171 by tedeytan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License image by  image by tedeytan  [text added]

by Rachael Borene

On December 1st, 2013, the public was shocked when announced an upcoming shipment method: delivery by drone. Customers who lived within a ten-mile radius of an Amazon shipment center would eventually have the option of having small packages delivered to them in less than thirty minutes, straight to their doorstep, thanks to GPS-guided drones.

The announcement sparked a public outcry which led to many unanswered questions about drones. Amazon tried to answer as many question as possible, but people still feared the thought of drones zipping through the sky above their heads, carrying unmarked packages. Our society, which looks in awe at the technologically advanced worlds in science fiction, is still living in a time where we’d rather picture these technologies as fantasy instead of dealing with them as a reality.

So how does the concept of the drone become normalized in society?

The answer is easy: begin with younger generations of people. In the past, drones were thought of as war machines and tools of terror. Adults may feel like drones are making us lose control of our world, rather than making it a smaller and more accessible place for humanity to live. Children, however, have yet to make up their minds about drones.

This year, Barnes and Noble hosted a nationwide Makers Faire, complete with demonstrations of a working drone. The drone was little more than a novelty; it only stayed operational for eight minutes before it had to be charged for another fifty minutes, it couldn’t carry anything, and the demonstrator flew it only ten inches off the ground. But the innocent, fun personality of that little drone attracted curious children, and likewise reminded adults that the daydreams of their youth were coming true.

Young children today won’t remember a time when drones didn’t exist. Their first experiences with them will likely be as a toy, not a war machine. In only two years, the drone has gone from feared technology to a popular childrens’ toy. Only time will tell how society will come to use the drone, but the new generations are sure to approach it with an attitude of ingenuity and inspiration.

October 19th, 2015

The Drone Report: How’d We Get Here?

Drone-Blogby Ally Bishop

Rarely does a day go by that we don’t hear something in the news about a drone mishap, accomplishment, regulatory issue, or innovation. But have you ever wondered where the drone came from and how we got to this place?

As it turns out, drone technology got its start in 1911 during World War I. Sadly, the results were less than stellar.

“…According to a Navy history, the planes rarely worked: they typically crashed after takeoff or flew away over the ocean, never to be seen again.”1

Ah well. So much for that, right?

We Americans are not known to take our failures lying down, so we were back at it during World War II.

“Remote control technology was still limited—involving crude radio-controlled devices linked to motors—so actual pilots were used for takeoff: they were supposed to guide the plane to a cruising altitude and then parachute to safety in England, after which a ‘mothership’ would guide the plane to its target. In practice, the program was a disaster. Many planes crashed, or worse. John F. Kennedy’s older brother, Joseph, was one of the program’s first pilots: he was killed in August 1944 when a drone-to-be that he was piloting exploded prematurely over Suffolk, England.”1

Sigh. Surely that would teach us our lesson, eh? No, no, we were not to be outdone by these pilot-less crafts. And we made our mark. During the Vietnam War, we found success. Over 3,500 recon missions proved that drones had found their stride. But our sensors weren’t quite up to snuff for warfare purposes.2

That wouldn’t stop us for long. By the Gulf War, drones were regularly used for warfare and spying.2 Fast forward a few years and these top-secret devices find even more uses.

Long gone are the days of the military-only drone advancements. Now, they often take to the air with rotary wings,3 haul Amazon deliveries,4 and fit in the palms of our hands.5 They assist fertilizing practices on farms6 and deliver medical supplies.7 They are the wave of the future.

And a popular Christmas gift this year.8

  1. Sifton, J. “A Brief History of Drones,” The Nation, February 27, 2012 issue
  2. Hastings, M. “The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret,” Rolling Stone, April 16, 2012
  3. “A Short History of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,”, ND
  4. Amazon Prime Air Program
  5. Wallet Drone IndieGoGo Campaign
  6. Rohr, R. “Meet the New Drone That Could Be a Farmer’s Best Friend,” Modern Farmer, January 21, 2014
  7. Masunaga, S. “First FAA-Approved Drone Delivery Takes Medicine to Rural Virginia,” Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2015
  8. Dodson, A. “Drone Invasion: 1M New Drones This Xmas,”, October 18, 2015
September 28th, 2015

Why Writer About Drones? With Authors RC & JP Carter

Drones-CartersWant more drones? No problem! The Carters have you covered…

  1. Where did the inspiration for The O’Rourke series come from?

We like all of the old time murder mysteries like Thin Man, Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and the list goes on. We decided to give a tip of the hat to these old school detectives while including the latest in technology.

  1. Is it difficult to write a book together? Do you run into arguments over plot or character?

Neither one of us finds it difficult to write together. We do disagree on plot and perhaps character motivation at times, but we find that talking it through stimulates both of our imaginations. Eventually we find a mutual common ground.

  1. Is mystery/crime your favorite genre to write in?

While we enjoy the mystery crime genre, we currently have a non-fiction paranormal book in the works, a historical fiction book coming down the pike and a children’s story book series coming soon.

  1. Will there be a fourth book to The O’Rourke series? 

Yes, it’s already in the planning stages. We have the basic storyline and the locale where the action will take place. Would you like a teaser? We’re thinking Caribbean…

  1. What inspired you to write about drones in the third book of the series, Clone Drones?

It was evident when we began to write the book that personal drones were bursting upon the scene. We knew that it was only a matter of time until an enterprising criminal weaponized them. Of course, now many people own and operate personal drones. Recently a young man did indeed weaponize his drone. The FAA is currently investigating this issue along with ways to regulate and police drone traffic.

  1. Do you think drones will ultimately positively or negatively affect us in the future?

We think drones, like any other technology can be used for the common good or could be used in a detrimental way. As we quoted in the beginning of Clone Drones:

“…Ultimately, restraints upon war are more a matter of politics than of technology. If you are concerned about American aggression, it is not the drones you should fear, but the politicians who order them into battle.” — David Bell, Editor at The New Republic.

  1. Which book of the series so far is your favorite and why?

Clone Drones is our favorite because of the action, continued growth of the characters and the relevant storyline. So far Clone Drones has won two awards and it’s gratifying to have other people recognize its merit.

About RC & JP Carter

RC and JP Carter are the award winning authors of The O’Rourke Series. They also love paranormal investigating, bicycling, camping and travel. It seems there are stories everywhere!



August 31st, 2015

The Drone Report! Episode III

by drone reporter Nicole Pieretti

Alert! Drone danger! There have recently been reports of drones becoming a danger to other planes in the sky. Just a couple of weeks ago, an ambulance helicopter was flying a patient to the hospital had to avoid a mid-air collision with a drone just north of the Fresno Yosemite International Airport in California. The ambulance copter was about 1,000 feet high when the pilot saw the drone flying directly towards them. The drone came about 15 to 20 feet from colliding with the helicopter.

Apparently, this is becoming an increasing problem. Pilots have reported drones flying near their aircraft 650 times, which is three times more than last year. The federal aviation administer, Michael Huerta, commented on the issue: “The very, very small ones we feel represent much less of a hazard. We’re much more concerned about the higher performance unmanned aircraft, those that are interacting in the airspace with commercial aircraft with private pilots.”

Drones are not allowed to fly more than 400 feet off the ground or within five miles of any airport, but this rule is being ignored. It was reported that a small drone was flying near the left wing of a JetBlue just minutes before it landed. Another drone flew into restricted airspace over Washington D.C. at 1,500 feet. In Louisville, a training aircraft almost collided with a drone flying near it. All of these incidents happened on the same day.

Are these rule breakers being persecuted? The FAA has trouble enforcing drone rules because the person flying the drone is often times so far away it makes it difficult to catch them. There have been no reports of an actual collision but it is only a matter of time. Is there not enough room in the sky?

August 18th, 2015



We’re back with another author who writes about drones. Mike Maden gives us his take…with some fascinating backstory.

  1. Why did you choose drone technology?

I originally decided to focus on drone technology in my Drone series because like most people following the global war on terror, I began to notice the term “drone” pop up in the news. I’ve always had a fascination with the history of warfare and my curiosity led me to dig in on the topic. What I thought I knew about drones and their possibilities on the battlefield paled in comparison to what has already been deployed and the near future deployments—land, sea, air, space and nano—are literally the stuff of science fiction.

What’s most fascinating about the advent of drone technology, though, isn’t how it’s changing warfare but how it’s changing us: our politics, culture and economy. I’m a huge fan of the military techno-thriller genre so it seemed to me the future of that genre would be in drones as well so I dove in, head first. My latest novel, Drone Command, is the third in the series and the development of drone tech continues to utterly fascinate me.

  1. Do you think drones will be the future of warfare?

Drones will be the future of everything, civilian and military, as advances in sensors and software increase exponentially.

In warfare, drones will continue to replace humans for the simple reason that humans are the weak link in any combat system. In its deadliest and most terrifying form, the future of drone warfare will be LARs—lethal autonomous robotics which is a subject I explore more deeply in Drone Command, especially underwater (UUV) and surface (USV) vehicles. (Drones, of course, are a subset of robotics.)

Combat systems—planes, tanks, ships and submarines to name a few—are limited in their performance capabilities and mission profiles because of the fragility of the humans they convey. Think of the life support systems (water, food, oxygen, temperature, armor) and waste disposal systems (air, liquid, solid) necessary for the soldiers and sailors serving us around the world. Humans also need sleep and are subject to psychological events such as fear, confusion and stress all of which affect combat performance.

In certain advanced combat systems like jet fighters, human biology is the limiting performance factor. Even with G-suits and other contrivances, modern jet aircraft can’t fly as fast or as nimbly as their specs would indicate because the human operator on board would either black out or perish. A supersonic guided missile is what a fighter jet could be if humans weren’t in the cockpit. And don’t get me started on hypersonic vehicles….

In Drone Command I deal more specifically with the new carrier-based UCAV and UCLASS systems like the recently deployed delta-winged X-47B which is a harbinger of things to come. The X-47B is the U.S. Navy’s first UCLASS aircraft capable of completely autonomous carrier take-off, landing and flight operations including surveillance, strike and even air refueling with other autonomous aircraft.

Another advantage of computers flying planes or driving ground vehicles is that they can be linked together which means that every vehicle sees and knows what every other vehicle sees and knows. That allows for swarming tactics and other new battlefield operations we haven’t yet fully explored. Imagine playing a chess game with an opponent where your self-aware pieces know where they are in relation to each other and the enemy pieces and all of them attack or defend instantly and simultaneously while your hapless human competitor can only move one piece at a time. That’s a huge oversimplification, of course, but it gives you an idea of the possibilities.

All of the advantages of self-driving “Google” cars applies to military applications as well. Google cars have half the accident rate of human drivers now and human error is the single greatest cause of military and civilian vehicle crashes. (In WWII, the U.S. Army Air Corps lost more pilots in training than in actual combat.)

The most positive note about drones taking on combat operations is that we are removing our best and brightest young men and women from harm’s way and that can only be a good thing. But this also presents a moral hazard. Politicians in the West typically avoid warfare because they fear the human cost of it. But if politicians think that war won’t cost lives, then they might be more likely to engage in war because it’s just the machines that will do the fighting and this might, ironically, lead to more human casualties in the long run as nations engage in more combat.

Bottom line: if computers can beat humans at chess (they do), can out-think humans in high cognition games like Jeopardy (they have) and can do what they do without sleep, fear or worries about home life, then you can see why militaries around the world—including our biggest geopolitical competitors China and Russia—are moving as swiftly as they can toward these technologies even if we decide not to in the future for ethical reasons. Imagine a scenario where China deploys a thousand expendable higher performance unmanned combat aircraft all controlled by supercomputers against an American force of lesser capable, human-controlled aircraft. Who do you think would win?

One last sobering thought: the costs of training, housing, payroll, healthcare and retirement absorb a huge percentage of defense budgets that could otherwise be deployed toward systems development and acquisition. From an economic perspective alone, if drones provide greater capabilities for less cost, why wouldn’t you want more of them and fewer humans?

This is why I believe drones will be more disruptive to civilian than military affairs and that this disruption will happen much sooner than most of us realize. A 2013 Oxford University study suggested that nearly half of ALL American jobs are at risk of automation within the next twenty years. And we’re not just talking about low skill, low wage jobs. A company in the UK possesses a “drone” pharmaceutical researching device that is creating new medicines faster and cheaper than any human can. There are drone musicians (and music writers), journalists, chefs (who also write recipes) and even “doctors” diagnosing patients. The single biggest change we’ll see is the advance of all forms of self-driving vehicles, especially cars but also trains and planes. One estimate suggests that as many as 90% of all cars on the road now will disappear when we transition to self-driving cars.

  1. How did you come up with Troy Pearce’s character and is he inspired by anyone you know or admire?

Troy Pearce is my main series character. He’s my idea of a modern American warrior who’s been in the trenches of the global war on terror and survived to talk about it. Like many Americans today he’s a man who deeply loves his country but no longer trusts his government (regardless of political party) to do the right thing.

He’s inspired by all of my favorite heroes of the genre—Jack Ryan, Scot Harvath, Mitch Rapp to name a few—but with a modern technological twist. Troy is a former CIA SOG operator who lost too many friends in the “forever war” of GWOT. But he’s a warrior and believes in doing the right thing so he forms his own private security company that specializes in drone warfare. That way he can pick and choose his own battles with a certain moral clarity and by deploying drones can keep his people out of harm’s way. Throughout the series we see Troy’s arc as he continuously struggles with the dilemma: How do you serve your country when you don’t trust your government? But if you truly love your country, how do you not serve?

  1. The Drone series has been praised for its inclusion of advanced cyber warfare and high tech technology. Did you have to do a lot of researching before writing? Or do you have a background of working in a similar field?

When I began the Drone series I intended on inventing my own drone technology because I knew I would be writing fiction and I have an active imagination. But a few minutes of research into actual drone systems quickly disabused me of the notion that I could possibly outthink the geniuses who actually invent these things. So, yes, I spend a great deal of time researching existing or planned systems and feature them exclusively in my novels. My own background is in graduate studies in international relations and other social science disciplines which is why every Drone story takes place within a larger political and social context.

  1. Do you believe drones will be more beneficial or detrimental to our future?

Drones are neutral things. It’s the humans that deploy them that are problematic. Another reason why I love writing the Drone series is that it lets me explore the most pressing issues of our day in a new and interesting way.

For example, the whole issue of drones raises the fundamental issue of trust. I don’t care if a highway patrol drone is monitoring my speed because I trust the highway patrol and expect them to enforce the speed laws because it makes the roads safer. But as recent political scandals have shown some government officials have actually used our personal information against us for their own partisan or personal political interests. Think of the politician you most despise on either side of the aisle and then imagine them deploying drones over your house. The problem isn’t really the drone, is it?

I put drones in the hands of good and bad people in my novels because it allows me to raise the question: Whom do we trust? And do we realize that all democratic politics and all capitalist markets depend entirely on trust? And if trust goes away we lose both. I suppose what I’m saying is that while drones are featured prominently throughout my series, it’s never really about the drones.

  1. Your books have a reputation for being filled with nonstop action. Have you always written thrillers?

Drone was my first published novel and I really love the genre so I can’t imagine myself writing anything else even if I start a new series.

  1. How do you think technology in general is transforming the future of warfare? 

This might sound crazy but read any five of the classic science fiction “space war” novels and you’ll get a good idea of where we’re heading. If that’s too much trouble, check out the “Terminator” film series. James Cameron is tapping into our very worst fears for entertainment value but the technologies he presents are the kinds of things that are being developed around the world right now. No wonder tech gurus like Elon Musk fear the advance of AI as more dangerous than even nuclear weapons. (There was a news report just last week that a robot AI achieved self-awareness.)

But there’s also good news. One of the technologies I first explored in Drone is the revolution in brain-machine interfaces. In other words, we now have the capacity to link the human mind to computers. This opens up a world of possibilities not the least of which are incredible non-lethal advances in medical technology. For example, brain-driven exoskeleton suits which were created to enhance combat capabilities of soldiers can also be used to allow quadriplegics to walk for the first time. It also means that some forms of blindness will also be “cured” as we wire around the biological short-circuit and hard wire the brain to an optical device. How cool is that? That’s why Troy’s company, Pearce Systems, has both civilian and military contracts. It allows me to discuss the most exceptional non-military drone tech achievements in my series as well.

  1. What’s been the biggest hurdle for you to overcome as an author?

The biggest hurdle for me is myself, always, and that’s probably true for most authors. I believe it was Heraclitus who said, “Character is destiny.” The art can’t be bigger than the heart.

Too many of us wait for permission to do the thing we’re passionate about doing and that’s always a mistake—especially for writers. You only learn how to write by actually writing, and you only get better at it by writing more. (Note to future writers: All writing is rewriting.)

I was unbelievably fortunate to have been offered a contract with Penguin Random House for the Drone series and the day they called me up was one of the greatest thrills of my life. (I grew up working class devouring Penguin Classics at the public library.) But they didn’t offer to buy an idea; they purchased a manuscript. Had I not taken the chance on myself and written Drone I wouldn’t be in the privileged position I am now and I take that responsibility very, very seriously. I hope anybody that’s reading this who has the least inkling that they are an author will take this to heart and begin writing—now.

My biggest struggle right now is that I have way, way too many ideas in my head and I can’t write them down fast enough and I’m experiencing that again as I’m prepping book four in the Drone series. Simple is always better but the world is terribly complex and the issues we’re all facing aren’t amenable to simple solutions. I suppose that’s why I keep defaulting to Troy Pearce, Margaret Myers and other protagonists in the Drone series. Our destiny as a nation and as a species depends now more than ever on people of character who are passionate about doing the right thing no matter the cost to themselves and Troy and Margaret embody that ideal.

About the Author

MikeMadenGrowing up in a working-class family in central California, Mike Maden spent a fair share of his youth in slaughter houses, canneries and feed mills but a lifelong fascination with history and politics ultimately led to a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California (Davis) focusing on the areas of conflict, technology and international relations. After brief stints as a campus lecturer, political consultant and media commentator, Mike turned to studies in theology and a decade of work with a Dallas-based non-profit where he eventually discovered fiction writing. DRONE was the result of a recent challenge by two published friends to try his hand at a novel. Written primarily in Texas, BLUE WARRIOR was edited in the shadow of the gorgeous Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee where Mike and his wife Angela now happily reside.