Why The Pirate Bay's robot drone idea is just Pi in the sky

Network experts tell TechRepublic whether the torrent site's plans to use flying bots to keep the site online could really work.

Ambitious plans by file-sharing site The Pirate Bay to mount computers on robot drones are unlikely to get off the ground, according to experts.

The drones, floating "several kilometres up in the air" would act as proxy servers redirecting traffic to a secret location, according to a posting on the site. This would make it harder for authorities to shut down the service.

"One of the technical things we always optimize is where to put our front machines...With the development of GPS controlled drones, far-reaching cheap radio equipment and tiny new computers like the Raspberry Pi we're going to experiment with sending out some small drones that will float some kilometers up in the air. This way our machines will have to be shut down with aeroplanes in order to shut down the system," the posting by 'MrSpock' said.

It continued: "These Low Orbit Server Stations (LOSS) are just the first attempt. With modern radio transmitters we can get over 100Mbps per node up to 50km away. For the proxy system we're building, that's more than enough."

But this sci-fi tinged plan has not impressed network experts who have pointed out a number of flaws with the idea.

Daryl Schoolar, principal analyst for infrastructure at Ovum, said maintaining 99.99 per cent availability from a constantly airborne base station is a "daunting logistical task".

Here's a few more reasons why The Pirate Bay's flying robot stations idea is unlikely to fly.

Stormy weather

Keeping the drones stable and airborne would be difficult in storms, according to engineer Peter Cochrane, former chief technologist for BT and TechRepublic columnist, who said "wind and rain can be strong and these things are very lightweight. He added that ice on the fuselage of the drones would pose an additional hazard. Bad weather could not only ground a bot, it could also make the wireless transmission more difficult, said Schoolar.

Fuel costs

The expense of the fuel needed to keep drones in the air 24/7 would soon mount up, particuarly as you need three drones per orbit to guard against network failure, according to Cochrane.

Dodging planes

One simple but real problem would be the need to get out of the way of other traffic in the skies, and given The Pirate Bay's motivation for creating the flying server stations is to make it more difficult to take the site offline they might want to reconsider: Cochrane said that jamming the signal from the drones would be "really easy".

Holding onto airspace

Cochrane points out that unmanned drones are not legal in some jurisdictions, while Schoolar added that in the US constantly hogging airspace would be frowned upon.

Network delays

Adding a new hop or link to the network to send a message to an airborne transceiver and then back to the ground could increase network delay, said Schoolar.

In its post The Pirate Bay admits "We're just starting so we haven't figured everything out yet". Sadly for fans of flying networks it seems they might be better off fighting their battles on the ground.