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Drones: Is Anyone Safe?

You’re watching one of your favorite TV shows, and there's a scene that looks like the camera has been put on a crane and lifted high up to see everything. Have you ever wondered how this is achieved? The answer starts with a very skilled drone pilot. Drones have revolutionized the cost of television and movie production. Before, getting a great aerial shot required an extremely stable helicopter and pilot, a camera operator, and a director to get the shot right. Drones only a need a single person and just a few thousand dollars of equipment--pocket change in a large movie production.

The rising popularity of drones over the last few years has led to a drop in price. Although drones for serious aerial filming are still well into the thousands of dollars, anyone can pick up a small inexpensive toy one without a camera for $20 to $30. Flying a drone has also become much easier with more technical advancements like GPS tracking and first person view (FPV).

But with the growing number of drones in the air, is having drones so accessible to the public a good thing? The answer to that question is highly debatable. A search on Google containing the words “Drone” and “Privacy” brings up hundreds of news articles and discussions about how drones are bad for our world. Larger drones are able to be outfitted with cameras that can broadcast live video back to the pilot giving them a FPV of what the drone is seeing. Drones capable of live video could fly over no trespassing areas and see everything behind the closed lines. Given that there are no strongly enforced laws on where drones can be flown, several cases of them being flown in restricted airspace such as airports and even the White House have been reported.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now required drones over 250g (half a pound) to be registered by their serial numbers and follow these rules:

  • Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles

  • Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times

  • Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations

  • Don't fly within five miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying

  • Don't fly near people or stadiums

  • Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs

  • Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft

The rules the FAA has set in place are pretty simple, but just like every new invention, a few people tend to ruin it for everybody. Just last year, a staggering video now viewed almost 3.6 millions time was uploaded to YouTube. The video shows what looks to be a homemade drone hovering in the woods with a semi automatic handgun attached to it. The gun is able to be remotely fired by a servo (small motor) on the trigger. Although it seems pretty useless, this is just something a college student put together in his spare time. If an FPV camera was mounted to this, who knows what could happen.

Are people okay with drones flying around the sky? Andrew Anderson, a senior at North Scott, told me during a recent shift at Capriotti’s, “I really don't have any problem with it” after I asked him his thoughts on drones and privacy. Then I showed him the video of the gun mounted to the drone. “Jeez,” he answered as a customer walked in the door. Drones are a spectacular invention that will continue to push the boundaries of aerial filming and photography. With precautions taken, there should be no problems with people owning drones. The death of drones will be because of the pilots who fly them. It would be sad to see such great technology go to waste. Only time will tell.

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