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Prisons fear drone escapes, presumably because they have never seen a drone

Illustration for article titled Prisons Fear Escape By Drone, presumably because you've never seen a drone

image:: Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

The Justice Department released one chilling audit yesterday at length about the imminent threat to prison security posed by drones. What could these robotic sky criminals of the future look like? Bellies big enough to hold a convicted killer, chainsaw throwers, and invisibility cloaks that allow them to soar through the clear blue skies at top speed undetected? Everything is possible.

The report opens today, 2020. According to the Bureau of Prisons, there were 57 “drone incidents” in the facilities of the Federal BOP in 2019 – although the agency is of course of the opinion that such attacks are not sufficiently reported. In one case, a prison alleged that it thwarted a drone attempting to transport “20 cell phones, 23 vials of injectable drugs, dozen of syringes and several packs of tobacco,” among other things. 57 incidents, spread over 365 days and several thousand prisons. However, there is an even worse threat from drones:

“As drone technology advances, BOP officials told us that future devices may even have payload capabilities that could make it possible to lift an adult out of prison.”

… lifting an adult out of prison.

Reporter Andrew Liszewski, always the voice of reason, pointed out that the payload of an average drone is roughly the same as its own weight. And as the edge pointed out it is possible attaching many small drones like Voltron together that can lift a man – but at about the same speed as a chair attached to multiple helium balloons.

If the Bureau of Prisons is not immediately provided with adequate security arrangements and solid funding, could a drone propel inmates through the night sky? Hell, I’m not an aviation professional, but I’ve found someone who is.

“While the world of drones is constantly evolving, there are currently no commercially available options for such bold activities,” Austin Brown, co-founder of licensed drone service provider Global Air Media LLC, told Gizmodo. Here’s why:

I define commercial drones as those that are available to consumers, even wealthy consumers, in the marketplace. I don’t know of any who could support a person’s weight. If you broaden the definition of “commercial” to include research drones, the simple answer is “yes”. A drone could theoretically get a person out of jail because it has the payload capability. Outside of the military, these drones usually exist as prototypes. And while there are drones that can carry heavier payloads, they are prohibitively expensive.

This type of drone would not be bought from Amazon or Walmart, but from an organization such as a research facility. It’s not that the technology doesn’t exist, but that it’s extremely difficult for the average person to achieve. If someone tried to get El Chapo out of prison, I could see a situation where they had the resources to carry out such a daring escape. Even so, they would have to fund a drone with these capabilities or build one from scratch.

For reference, DJI is currently the largest commercial drone manufacturer in the market. They control around 70% of global sales of commercial drones. Popular models such as the Phantom, Mavic and Inspire are flown by professionals and amateurs alike. However, their payload capacity is only up to 8 pounds. DJI’s largest model, the DJI Storm, only has a 40 pound payload.

Brown also mentioned that the drones available commercially in public spaces are FAA-regulated maximum payload Many drones have geo fences that prevent them from flying around in “sensitive areas” like prisons.

Even in the grim imagination of BoP officials, drones, which act as a popular method for jailbreaks, seem highly unlikely and easily thwarted, given the speed at which a drone would move with people and the level of noise it would make.

“Couldn’t you hit it with a giant net?” Senior editor on consumer technology, Alex Cranz, a cutting edge technology expert, wondered. Yes, most likely you could – if you were incredibly rich.

The report said: “Officials from two major state law enforcement systems said cost was the main barrier to taking action against drones. One reported that even non-tech options like netting over the prison yard could cost millions of dollars in a large prison. “

Millions of dollars for a great network.

To be fair, airborne criminals only make a minor cameo on the report, mostly focusing on applications that are better based on physics as we currently understand them. “Drones have been used to deliver contraband goods to inmates,” said the report, “but they could also be used to monitor facilities, facilitate escape attempts, or transport explosives.”

It’s unclear whether contraband or explosives would just slip through the holes in the world’s most expensive trapezoidal net, but there is a well-known scare tactic among these border fans. In 2018 the Prison Policy Initiative written down that the Bureau of Prisons probably made one up non-existent threat from visitors smuggling contraband to inmates to replace face-to-face visits with phone calls justify profitable Partnerships with blood-sucking telecommunications companies. However, in their findings, prison staff, not visitors, were found guilty of 20 smuggling cases that year. These types of cases are not uncommon.

The only solution to real or imaginary problems is to give prisons more money.

Gizmodo has reached out to the Department of Justice and Prison Office regarding strategies to combat drones and will update the post when we hear anything.

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