Recent news included a tidbit about drones (the kind with cameras, weapons, etc., not the kind from a beehive). Apparently there is already a prototype drone that can land on electric lines and draw power to charge its battery. This would enable the drone to remain in the field for long periods of time as it would not have to go back to a base to recharge.
Good Lord by Trustocorp, 2011, back lit stained glass
While the military implications of drones are fascinating, I believe the real significance of this article is in the potential of the technology.
If drones can steal electricity to charge their batteries, they can steal electricity to use for any purpose whatsoever. Image if you have a drone that can perch on a line and has a plug that extends down to the ground. Free electricity! You need no knowledge of how to hook up a line to steal it. You take no risk, the drone just flies up to the power line and you’re good to go. When you’re done, it flies down and you pack it up. No evidence exists of your theft at that location and the power plant picks up the bill for your usage.
In addition, if you have an electric car, it would only be a small jump in technology to have a small drone in the trunk and you could recharge your car’s battery anywhere you could find a power line. No more stopping at a gas station for you. No more worrying about the low range of your electric car. Enormous potential abuses exist if there is an easy way to steal electricity with no way to be tracked.
Perching drones will be made illegal for non-military usage as soon as they appear on the market.
Though they may be as effective as a plastic gun printed with a 3D printer, the potential for abuse is far too high for Congress to allow them in private hands. On the other hand, the government trusts itself to do the right thing, so their use will be monopolized by the government the instant they are available.
Because most power companies are so heavily regulated that they depend on the goodwill of politicians, they won’t let out a peep of protest and will pass the cost of the theft on down to the private consumer. Since the stolen electricity will be “free” to governments, as an expense passed on to private citizens and businesses, governments are guaranteed to abuse their new found powers of theft. New technology of this sort cannot be put back in Pandora’s Box. Once you learn to open the Kryptonite lock with a plastic pen, the whole design must change.
What will become of our power lines? Will they all have to be buried at great cost? Will this be an excuse to watch everyone even more closely in our liberty loving society? Or is there some far less costly solution? Whatever the case, the winds of change are blowing. This new technology will have a greater impact than a small plane that gets to hang out a bit longer taking pictures.