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Reporters' Roundtable: Drones, UAVs, and the unmanned war on terror

Spencer Ackerman of Wired's Danger Room blog joins us today to discuss the use of unmanned surveillance aircraft in the raid on bin Laden and the future of this technology for the military forces.

Technology helped U.S. SEAL commandos get to Osama bin Laden's compound, but the outcome of the raid depended on old-fashioned soldiering skills. This from a military force that has made history through robotics in pursuit of its goals. Unmanned aerial vehicles have been used for surveillance, and more recently for attacks, on targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere. No other military, as far as we know, has put such stock in unmanned, autonomous, or remote vehicles.

Slideshow: First flight of the Phantom Ray

Today we're going to discuss the use of aerial drones, UAVs, and UCAVs with Spencer Ackerman, the main writer of Wired's great Danger Room blog.

Now playing: Watch this: Reporters' Roundtable: Drones, UAVs, & the unmanned war...


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Some of our discussion points

First, should we define terms? Drones, UAVs, UCAVs.

Discuss role of drones in the bin Laden action, especially the "drone-proof" bit.

You're reporting on a recent uptick in drone missions. Is this based on intelligence gathered from computers and media recovered from the bin Laden compound?

What's the state of the art right now in UAVs?

Why a stealth drone (the Phantom Ray)?

How are drones commanded? Who flies them, and from where?

The downsides of UAVs?

When did drones get weapons? What are the safeguards?

How many UAVs in use today? Projected in the next few years?

What's the catalogue of available drones look like?

Discuss non-military uses.

What about DIY? Is this a good hobby? See Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson on

The sci-fi segment: Could drones turn against us or "go rogue"? Or get hacked? Will there be drone-on-drone dogfights?

Comments from the chat room:
W1ngz> Been lookin forward to this all week, I just built a drone at home and it's waiting for its first test flights.

TheGeek007> Is sending an unmanned drone into sovereign territory legal?

Gavin> I was in Iraq several times and felt much safer knowing that drones where up their watching over us.

CurtisB> Does he have any comment on the use of drones at Fukushima?

Agilis> Are enemies of the US and perhaps our Allies, developing drones to counter US' use of drones?

Next up, on May 13: Dale Dougherty, editor of MAKE and organizer of the Maker Faire, on the growing DIY culture. Follow me on Twitter for more news on Reporters' Roundtable. E-mail with your ideas for shows! And, as always, don't forget to check out the site,, for show notes, links, and talkback.