The growth of personal drones is flying high with consumers as more and more people use the unmanned flying machines to record everything from activities in oil refineries to people on the beach. However as more and more hobby drones take to the skies, concerns are also flying from critics who say the airborne buzz makers are annoying, prying and just plain unsafe.
A drone can be roughly defined as an unmanned aircraft that can fly without an actual human in a cockpit. The most documented cases of drone usage has involved the U.S. military. According to John Villasenor, writer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and professor of electrical engineering at UCLA, the Predator and Global Hawk are two drone classes that have been used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both have been cited as heroes in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), and both require a skillful pilot. While the military has coined the phrase, “Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles,” drones are piloted by highly-skilled aviators who fly the small aircraft from remote locations and with expert video game-style control.
“They are piloted by extremely skilled aviators,” said Villasenor.
It is perhaps because of the remote control flying element that has made drone use a popular new technology gadget among civilians. According to Los Angeles Times reporter, Joseph Serna, the world of droning has moved way beyond the battlefields of the Middle East, and has taken root in the world of hobbyists. While the industry of unmanned drones is still in its infancy, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that by 2019 nearly 8,000 civilian drones could be flying throughout the United States. These helicopter-like personal drones are flying high with consumers who currently are using them in industries like agriculture, journalism, and film-making. However, many people are uncomfortable with the use of drones for remote photography.
“The unmanned aircraft use is becoming more popular especially as a way to create videos,” said Serna.
Armed with a high-definition camera, drones can hover above anything from a professional sporting event to a 30-story high-rise building. While photographers and hobby flyers love this element of drones, privacy-rights advocates are crying foul on the use of drones to capture remote photography. Serna explained at during a recent Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup playoff game in Los Angeles, a drone hovered above the stadium, whirring away as it shot videos of spectators. The angry crowd was able to swat the drone down with a flying sweatshirt, and then used skateboards and tennis shoes to smash the remote flying machine into small bits. Amazon recently announced plans of using drones to drop off small packages purchased by consumers via drones. The purchases would be dropped off at a doorstep within 30 minutes of completing the transaction.
“The use of drones is certainly something that’s growing enormously,” said Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith as he stood over the smashed drone.
Forbes writer, Adam Tanner, explained that ironically both law enforcement and criminals are also jumping on the drone craze. It is the potential criminal element that is causing concern. After all, a cat burglar could use his drone for staking out a building he plans to rob. However, while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has many laws about how private businesses and law enforcement agency’s can use drones, hobbyists drone flyers have few rules governing their use of the unmanned aircraft. The FAA pointed out that drone use for the hobbyist is generally permitted as long as pilots don’t fly recklessly. The wording of the FAA law concerning amateur drone use is vague and is almost verbatim to the laws that regulate remote-controlled airplanes. Drafted in 1981, these laws basically infer that pilots of drones simply need to fly at acceptable altitudes, away from airports and at safe distances from people. The agency explained that they hope to have clearer drone rules by 2015, but many experts believe the legislation will take longer than that to craft.
“They are so in-your-face that it’s easy to see the privacy implications,” said San Francisco-based Jennifer Lynch, a senior attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
However, as prices for drones drops to less than $300, it is clear that personal drones will continue to fly high with consumers even as the concerns surrounding the use of drones grows. From spying on beach bathers to observing police behavior at DUI checkpoints, the uses for drones continues to expand as the numbers of drones continue proliferate the skies.
By Vincent Aviani