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Attack of the (Personal) Drones

Cool tech gadget or public nuisance? The simple answer… both.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—more commonly known as drones—have become increasingly popular as of late. This is thanks to both increases in technology as well as a recent influx of more “affordable” models to the market.

Cool Tech Gadget
Who wouldn’t want one of these? Although definitely not a toy, one has to admit that they certainly look fun to play with. A quick glance on Amazon shows many priced firmly in the over ¥100,000 (US$840) range. These, clearly, are not the more affordable models mentioned above. Rather, this level of drone relies on incredible—and continuously improving—new technologies such as stabilizing systems, Wi-Fi, and smartphone/tablet control capabilities, including GPS precision control and auto pilot. Most can fly several hundred meters in the air, with others (supposedly) able to reach over a thousand. They include such safety features as “no fly zone” restrictions (using pre-programmed GPS) and have auto return, which means that if it flies out of the operator’s control zone then it automatically flies back to its takeoff point and lands safely. Combined with streaming realtime video, you can easily see how these might provide hours of entertainment.

Check out Heavy’s top 5 for a more detailed look at some of the top models available.

The most affordable model in this list, the Hubsan 107X4 Quadcopter, has some attraction other than price, as the palm-sized drone comes with a camera and is marketed for beginners to experts. Although with a maximum flight time of seven minutes and a 0.3 megapixel camera, it seems more geared toward the former of the two. In short, you get what you pay for. Models vary in quality, durability, and usefulness.

Speaking of useful, in Japan specific models were manufactured to help in the agricultural industry. Surprisingly, farmers have been using them for crop dusting since 1987. This is especially useful in instances where the smaller size of a farm prevents larger aircraft from performing the same task. And in Russia, a pizza company is even using modern over-the-counter drones for deliveries.

The entertainment and commercial value is not in question. However, the pilot’s sensibilities often are.

Public Nuisance
Drone (and camera) technologies are constantly improving, becoming smaller and more powerful with each new generation. While certainly impressive (and very, very cool), this is not necessarily a good thing for non-users who care about privacy. Nor necessarily for those who view the technology as a huge selling point yet aren’t capable of flying them responsibly.

The problem partially stems from the technology itself, which has improved beyond users’ ability to control them and and the fact that the common sense of yester-generations seem to have been replaced with the “Jackass” mentality of those with YouTube aspirations.

As governments attempt to come to terms with regulations for this unprecedented rash of personal drones, mostly out of fear over the danger of them crashing or causing an accident, headlines (usually negative) continue to appear. The sheer stupidity of the these three serve only to highlight some of the more “humorous” incidents.

– The DJI Phantom 2, which offers top-of-the-line features at a more affordable price, has been at the center of many of the more notorious accidents, most recently crashing on the White House lawn.

– Though drones were actually banned in all U.S. national parks, outdoor ”enthusiasts” are actually asking park rangers for help in retrieving their drones stuck in trees.

– Up for a few drinks at TGI Fridays? You’d better bring safety goggles and watch out for the mistletoe drone. (A mistletoe drone? Inside an enclosed drinking and eating establishment? At no point in the pitch meeting did someone think this might be a “bad idea”…?)

And the examples only continue on from there.

The Solution?
Good question. In Thailand, for example, the government is currently looking at extreme measures to regulate the use of drones by requiring licenses for flights, banning cameras (except for commercial use), and fining severely those who do not comply.

Excessive or necessary?

The technology is impressive, on that point there is no doubt. And yet the idea of any idiot buying one and flying it in (read as: crashing it in to) populated areas OR simply spying on their neighbors is equally problematic.

So, where do you come down on this issue? What is necessary? What is fair? Comment below.

  • Tanoshimi

    All fun and games until someone uses it to spy in your house so they can come back and burglarize it.