By Cody Crawford
Copious hype surrounds the tiny flying machines known as drones. Occasionally known as the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, a “drone” can refer to anything from an armed military jet to a hobbyist’s model aircraft. Public awareness of drones is rising, and most people view them as either abundantly awesome or horribly dangerous.
Small personal drones came to the forefront of the average person’s consciousness when Amazon announced they were experimenting with drone package delivery. Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said drones may not be used commercially, Amazon still has faith that the FAA will sort out their rules concerning drones “as early as sometime in 2015.” They plan to release Amazon Prime Air with 30-minute package delivery when that happens.
Drones can be purchased by anyone. They are capable of flying to enormous heights and are usually equipped with cameras capable of taking pictures and recording high definition videos.
According to one CNN story, a woman looked out her apartment window to see a drone peeping in at her. She snapped a picture of it, at which point it quickly swooped away. “You don’t expect to be walking around indecent in your apartment and have this thing out there potentially recording you,” stated Lisa Pleiss. She says since the drone flew away so quickly, it made her think someone was watching her. She then said the men controlling the drone packed it up and drove away.
CNN interviewed a police officer, Patrick Michaud, who said drone use is not illegal. He commented, “If you feel threatened by it or if you get hit by it, feel free to tell the person, ‘Hey, look, that’s not cool,’ or you can call the police and we can do the talking for you, if you wish.”
Another article from the New York Post told about two drones that “nearly took out” a New York Police Department helicopter as it flew over the George Washington Bridge in the middle of the night. The police report on the incident says that the pilots had to turn the helicopter to avoid a collision with the drones. The owner of one of the drones stated, “It’s just a toy. The copter came to us.”
After the 4th of July fireworks show in Nashville, a video of the fireworks went viral because the video was shot with a drone. The drone appeared to be in the middle of the fireworks, even though it was actually a good distance away. A few days later, an article in the Tennessean reported the FAA is investigating the man who took the video. Apparently, complaints were made from a few in the crowd. Robert Hartline, the owner of the drone, said that although he promoted an app he’s creating at the end of the video, he did not shoot it for commercial purposes.
Some believe drones could do a lot of good in certain industries, and Amazon isn’t the only company who would like to use drones to improve business. Even though it is against FAA regulations, some real estate agents currently use drones to provide potential buyers with aerial views of houses and property. Other applications for drones include agriculture, where a farmer could fly a drone slowly over crop fields, looking for issues without having to walk down every row. The journalism industry could also profit from drone use, since journalists die every year trying to get stories in dangerous areas.
Joe Vaughn of Skyris Imaging owns the “peeping tom” drone that allegedly spied on Lisa Pleiss. Vaughn says he called his local FAA office to ask permission before starting Skyris, which specializes in aerial photography. Although a technical secretary gave him verbal permission, the FAA is now investigating him. “Make me get a license,” Vaughn responded in a Seattle Times interview. “I would love to. I would be the first in line to get one, but you can’t ground an entire industry because you can’t come up with a set of rules.” He said he was not spying on Pleiss, but was taking pictures for a developer.
According to Gregory McNeal, who writes for Forbes, “If a realtor films buildings for fun using a remote controlled quadcopter, that’s legal. But if she takes that same quadcopter and films buildings as part of her job, that is illegal. If a farmer flies a model aircraft over his cornfield doing barrel rolls and loops, that’s legal. But if he uses the same model airplane to determine how to conserve water or use less fertilizer, that’s illegal. This is government regulation at its worst.”
The FAA has a list of “Don’ts” on their website concerning UAVs. They include:
- Don’t fly near manned aircraft
- Don’t fly beyond line of sight of the operator
- Don’t fly an aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds unless it’s certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
- Don’t fly contrary to your aeromodeling community-based safety guidelines
- Don’t fly model aircraft for payment or commercial purposes
Cody Crawford holds a degree in software engineering and recently joined the staff of Validity as Director of Digital Innovation.