Much has been made of the autonomous nature of drones, their ability to fly without a pilot on board, by remote control, or even according to preloaded instructions.
But one can’t forget that much of a drone’s advantage is the extremely high quality imaging equipment that can be carried, combined with the manueverability, which allows drones to send back extremely high resolution images taken from pretty much any perspective required.
While other surveillance equipment, like satellites, jet fighters, etc also carry high resolution imaging equipment, it is the combination of this equipment with the special flight capabilities of drones (especially persistence) which makes the drone such a proliferation.
One of the problems being encountered with drones is difficulty in processing the large amounts of data that is provided. A US General, speaking at a recent intelligence conference, said that with the next generation of Predator drone sensors, he would need 2,000 analysts to process the video feeds.
New ball-shaped sensors fitted on spy planes, drones, or even in public places like telephone poles can collect video imagery, but also can monitor cell phone calls and internet traffic, including emails.
The ‘Gorgon Stare’, a new sensor to be released in 2010 and used on the Reaper drone, will be able to take up to 12 video shots at a time, each with a different angle. That will soon be outdone by the ‘Argus’, which will cover up to 92 angular shots. (source)
And extensive discussion of these issues can be found here.