Drones are a problem. The FAA has subjected private drone use to all sorts of ridiculous stipulations. Law enforcement agencies seem to feel drone operation should be left to the pros, and are suddenly sprouting privacy concerns whenever a citizen flies one over something of theirs. Our nation’s three-letter agencies want to be able to deploy drones almost anywhere without oversight, even though they’ve proven to be much less efficient than boots on the ground. Then, of course, there are those piloted by the CIA — the kind that kill foreigners (and the occasional American) with almost no oversight, and what oversight there is has “bought in.”
So, with drone usage by citizens still being contested by a variety of federal agencies, this sort of thing doesn’t help at all.
KATSU, a well-known graffiti artist and vandal, used a hacked Phantom drone to paint a giant red scribble across Kendall Jenner’s face on one of New York City’s largest and most viewed billboards. By all accounts, it is the first time that a drone has been deployed for a major act of public vandalism.
This is KATSU’s proof-of-concept. Last year, he managed to convert an off-the-shelf drone into a weaponized tagging machine by attaching a spray can to a DJI Phantom. It had previously only been deployed indoors to create art on the fly. Now, it appears to be the next step in graffiti/vandalism.
Previously unreachable areas can now be tagged by graffiti artists, although the technique is still far from artistic. An off-the-shelf drone is far more finicky than an average human’s hands and wrists, especially considering the force of the aerosol spray can push a drone away from the “canvas.”
As far as transgressive art/public statements of intent go, KATSU’s tagging of this highly-visible, six-story billboard is, I suppose, appropriately juvenile. It’s a “because it’s there” statement — an opportunity to deploy refashioned tech to hand out an old-school defacing. There’s no underlying political statement, unless you consider the vandalization of an “unreachable” target to be some sort of clunky metaphor for the little people toppling the powers that be. Civil disobedience, this isn’t.
What this will do is result in increased suspicion by any law enforcement officer who encounters someone piloting a drone. This isn’t a positive development by any means, especially when the FAA seems more likely to let the government’s (all bodies, from national to local) worst fears guide its future regulation. And this is piled on top of its pre-existing (and not entirely unreasonable) fears of airline flight interference. There are plenty of positive uses for personal drones, but most legislators and regulators won’t be able to see past the spectacle of a six-story billboard being “owned” by a tiny drone and a cheap can of spray paint.