Mini-drone in action
Mini-drone in action

A nightmare vision of warring neighbours flying military-style drones over one another's homes has been conjured up by Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

Drone technology currently in use by governments and the US military in Afghanistan can easily be shrunk down and harnessed for much smaller disputes, he fears.

Drones are pilotless aircraft that are controlled remotely from the ground.

Schmidt raised the prospect of drones being employed to hover outside windows or in gardens as part of a campaign of harassment or intimidation in a war of attrition between householders.

Talking to the Guardian, the 57-year-old voiced his concerns, which also have implications for privacy.

He called for new laws to control the market for the aircraft.

"How would you feel if your neighbour went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their backyard. It just flies over your house all day.

"How would you feel about it?" asked Schmidt, who is Executive Chairman of the web search giant.

Drones are also attractive for terrorist organisations, he warned.

Eric Schmidt
Eric Schmidt

The lethal capacity of the remote-controlled planes has been demonstrated by the US government, which has used drone attacks to take on al-Qaida by assassinating its commanders and figureheads in remote attacks.

Schmidt said: "I'm not going to pass judgment on whether armies should exist, but I would prefer to not spread and democratise the ability to fight war to every single human being.

"It's got to be regulated... It's one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they're doing, but to have other people doing it... it's not going to happen."

Schmidt's fears about the use to which technology could be put comes after Google faced sharp criticism for its own activities.

There was outrage over its Streetview project, which has now photographed almost all of the UK's roads. Google cars with cameras mounted on stalks were attacked after residents claimed the inside of their homes were captured and then published online by the US firm.

Drones are already in use in civilian life, with the emergency services.