The Rise of Nonviolent Drones

A study examines 15,000 reports of drone use and finds some surprising results.

By Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

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A drone arrives with a small delivery at Deutsche Post headquarters in 2013 in Bonn, Germany.

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

When an earthquake hit Ecuador recently, members of the Humanitarian UAV Network, also known as UAViators, launched an appeal for pilots in the region to respond in support of post-disaster search and rescue. UAViators’ founder, Pat Meier, told me that they got replies nearly instantly. The pilot best positioned to respond, Francisco, replied in seven minutes and is “not only based in Ecuador—he took our formal three-day hands-on training on Humanitarian UAV Missions late last year.”

In five short years, small drones have gone from a quiet hobby to a thing everyone seems to be talking about—even Martha Stewart. Drone use has exploded. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch, Open Society Foundations, and Amnesty International have focused considerable energy on highlighting American use of weaponized drones—but what about everyone else? What are they doing?

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