A drone, also known as an unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV, is a remotely controlled flying device that can have any number of uses, from evil things like killing civilians or spying on protestors, to more benign-seeming things like journalistic photography. Nowadays, consumers can purchase not particularly powerful drones for personal fun.
Use by the U.S. military
The history of unmanned military aviation stretches back all the way to 1849, when the Austrians sent bomb-laden balloons toward Venice, but the use of UAVs as reconnaissance aircraft for the US military only dates to 1964. The semi-common use of drones for "targeting" the enemy began, as far as we know, under the Bush administration. This usage continued under the Obama administration. The program has its critics, even according to Marc Thiessen, President Bush's chief speech-writer: "When you send a drone to kill a terrorist, you not only vaporize the terrorist, you vaporize all the intelligence in his brain and so you might as well be setting file cabinets in the CIA on fire."
The most famous kind of drone used for targeting is the RQ-1/MQ-1 Predator, which can attack targets on the ground by shooting Hellfire missiles at them. The MQ-9 Reaper, formerly known as the Predator B, is another armed UAV in US military service, and is a much more capable aircraft than the Predator. It also has the distinction of being the aircraft of the first fighter squadron to convert to making exclusive use of unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
Recently the United States public, and - to some extent - even the media, has finally become concerned about the morality of drone use in military operations. This may have something to do with the greater visibility of the CIA's and with military use of drones to commit human-rights abuses, like those that occur with the "double-tap" protocol, when a drone strikes an area where terrorists are believed to be located, and then re-strikes that same area, after civilians have rushed the scene to help other civilians, thereby killing and injuring more civilians.
Americans have raised another concern: the use of drones to commit extrajudicial executions. In 2013 Amnesty International released a report raising the possibility that American drone-strikes in Pakistan constituted a war crime.
The US military also makes use of a variety of unarmed UAVs for reconnaissance, such as Global Hawk, Raven, and Shadow. These have far less news-making potential than their armed counterparts, though,
because of less kaboom for reasons unknown.
- Starting in 2012, American courts have declared the ownership of non-lethal surveillance drones by police departments to be legal.
- Drones are in use to "patrol" the United States border with Mexico.
- Amazon.com has toyed with the notion of using rotor-lifted drones to deliver packages to its customers.
- Drones are planned for use as restaurant waiters in Singapore starting in 2015 to help alleviate a labour shortage.
- Drones have been heavily marketed to consumers. Sometimes being on sale for less than sixty dollars to several thousand depending on their control automation, battery power, and quality of video.
The public strikes back
Occupy Wall Street protesters used a drone called the "Occucopter" to monitor police activity, so that they could catch police misconduct on camera and coordinate getting around the police crackdowns.
- ‘Stop saying ‘uh-oh’ while you’re flying’: Drone crash pilot quotes unveiled, Washington Post
- Out of Sight, Out of Mind.
-  The effort backfired somewhat, but did score some hits.
- "Report: Numerous countries involved in CIA interrogation programs", Jamie Crawford, CNN, February 7, 2013
- "US drone strikes could be classed as war crimes, says Amnesty International, The Guardian, 22 October 2013
- Now, flying robots to serve as waiters in Singapore