Criminal gangs in Shropshire have reportedly begun to use unmanned drones fitted with heat-seeking cameras to find illegal cannabis farms – and then either rob or blackmail the owners.
"They are fair game," one unnamed 33-year old told a local newspaper. "It is not like I'm using my drone to see if people have nice televisions. I am just after drugs to steal and sell. If you break the law then you enter me and my drone's world."
Cannabis cultivation requires hot temperatures and rows of hydroponic lamps. The heat signatures coming off attics and sheds have in the past been used by police to catch illegal growers – but with the proliferation of drone technology, the authorities no longer have a monopoly on the skies.
"Half the time we don't even need to use violence to get the crop," the criminal told the press.
"Growing cannabis has gone mainstream and the people growing it are not gangsters, especially in places like Halesowen, Cradley Heath and Oldbury."
This particular criminal told reporters that he had begun the practice in more built up areas, but had moved to the suburbs in order to avoid tangling with gangs and hardened drug dealers.
The revelation does of course raise the question of whether criminals might start to use similar tactics against more law-abiding citizens. For instance, might a burglar use a quadrocopter to case a house before going in for the theft?
Tom Watson, the local MP for West Bromwich East and chairman of the parliamentary group on drones, told the newspaper that the story shows "the proliferation of drone technology which can be used for both good and bad".
He said: "It is no surprise enterprising criminals would want to get the upper hand in the criminal underworld by using drones."
He went on to say that, "as a society we will be dealing with the impact of drones on our laws and regulations for years to come, and it is time the Government started listening about privacy concerns about the misuse of drones."
E-commerce giant Amazon recently announced its plans to begin delivering packages by drone within 4-5 years, and are currently developing an 8th-generation prototype drone.