Year of the Drone

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I admit that several years ago I wanted one of those radio controlled helicopters the guy was constantly demonstrating at the Mall.   It was like I was eight years old again and …  it was just so cool!   However, I resisted.   I have become aware that lots of other people were attracted to them, and with more practical applications than just as a cool toy.

Drones can be any size.   The larger military drones can fire missiles.   The military is also working on mosquito sized drones that could be released by the thousands.   The helicopter mentioned above is a personal drone.   Another type of personal drone that has become more popular is the quadracopter, a small platform with four sets of blades.   They can be loaded with miniature electronics and carry small objects.   At a music festival in South Africa this August, the beer drones will be in charge of delivering beverages.   Dial up your order on your phone and a drone will use your GPS to deliver a frosty beer to you.   An excellent application of technology, if you ask me.   Here is the beer drone in action.   Also, a lot of urban police departments have expressed interest in heavy surveillance drone use in their cities.

So it’s obvious that drones have an enormous range of applications.   Like any emerging technology, that can be both good and bad.   Get ready for 2015, which will be the year the FAA changes the regulations on drones.   Currently, no commercial use of drones is allowed; the control of drones has to be line of sight, and drones are not permitted above 400 feet.   Congress has given the FAA until 2015 to begin the “safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.”   Commercial drones will be allowed.   I don’t want to think about what they will be doing.   The regulations will be softened on range of control and also altitude (with drones over 400 feet under direction of air traffic controllers).   There are backyard scientists all over the world devising new uses for personal drones every day.    Check out this array of networked quadracopters.

Here’s where the legal fun begins.   The FAA is in charge of anything over 400 feet.   What happens below 400 feet?   Earlier this month, a woman noticed a small “device” hovering outside her third story bedroom window.   Her husband went outside and told the man operating the drone to stop.   He refused and said what he was doing was legal.   Thing is, he might be right.   If someone is standing in your yard looking in the window, they are definitely on your property.   In the case above, the operator was not on the property and technically neither was his device.   Is the air around your house part of your property?   If so, how high up?   Where does your air end and your neighbor’s begin?   Is all air “public space?”   I love the thorny questions, and I see years of all kinds of litigation ahead on this one.   Just remember, 2015 —  Year of the Drone.   They will suddenly be everywhere.

Photo: Aeryon Scout in flight.  Civilian drones such as this have been used to assist search and rescue activities.  (Dkroetsch, released to public domain)

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