Public embarrassment isn’t enough to dissuade me from telling the story of my only experience with pepper spray. I was an undergrad at the University of Michigan, and after hearing about a rise in sexual assaults on campus, my cousin Paul gave me some pepper spray. I figured I’d never use it, but it couldn’t hurt to have just in case. One day a few weeks later, I was on the phone with my boyfriend, and I came across the pepper spray in a drawer. I began fiddling with it — apparently our conversation was less than riveting — and then I gave it a test spray. Now, I did spray it away from me, but I also happened to spray it straight into the window fan, which blew it back into my face instantly. I’m sure my boyfriend was confused when I started yelling and crying. My face got all puffy, and nothing could mitigate the sting for about an hour. This is when I decided pepper spray was extremely effective, and that I should never touch it again. So it’s with no small amount of horror that I’m reporting on a new drone that can fire “bullets” of pepper spray.
Desert Wolf, a company based in South Africa, has recently announced its Skunk Riot Control Copter, marketing it as a crowd-controlling device that doesn’t “endanger the lives of the protesters or security staff.” Well, I suppose that’s true. Pepper spray isn’t tantamount to bombs or bullets, but still, the idea of essentially crop-dusting pepper spray on an unruly crowd still makes me cringe. The drone has four barrels that can barrage people with up to 20 balls’ worth of pepper spray per second, and the site promises that “80 pepper balls per second stop[s] any crowd in its tracks.” Yeah, I bet it does.
Each drone can carry up to 4,000 (!) pepper balls, as well as strobe lights and “blinding” lasers. It’s also got a thermal camera, HD video camera, speakers, a recording system, and long-range data links, and can also be loaded with pain markers to identify and tag armed and dangerous protesters, vandals, etc. The frequency of the pepper spray release rates can be controlled as well, with the higher frequencies reserved for life-threatening situations. One drone, or a fleet of drones, can be operated by a single person via a managing ground control system, which records “every move, every decision, every command.” I’m usually not for recording someone’s every move, but in this case it seems like a good idea. I can only begin to imagine how a drone like this could go wrong.
According to the BBC, Desert Wolf has already sold the first 25 units to a mining company, but the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) calls it a “deeply disturbing and repugnant development.” Yeah, but how do you really feel, ITUC? The ITUC is trying to figure out which company has purchased the drones and is already talking to mining unions, fearing that such a drone could end up killing people. They also argue that pepper spraying a crowd is akin to torture. I can vouch for that.
The drone comes on the heels of a drone produced by Texas company Chaotic Moon that’s outfitted with a Taser. The Chaotic Unmanned Personal Intercept Drone, otherwise adorably known as CUPID, is a fully autonomous “personal security system” and is similarly a terrible idea. It’s pretty ironic that such drones can be made and sold, while the FAA maintains its ban on drones that, say, deliver beer.