While so many more of us understand what a drone is today than we did even two years ago, we have yet to wrap our collective minds around the impact of drones in our own lives and the inner workings of our society. Like everything else that’s new and odd for us to see, yet then becomes commonplace, there’s going to be a massive drone adjustment period for people and we may be in it now.
For those of you who might be living on a remote island – wait, there are even drone-flying YouTube celebrities there. Okay, for any of you who actually don’t know what a drone is and can do, a drone is also known as a UAV or unmanned aerial vehicle. While drones themselves are obviously a technology, what is important about them are the other technologies a drone can house.
A drone can have GPS, lasers and many other technologies that are controlled by a user or users on the ground through ground control systems (GSC). In short, a drone can pack whatever the latest technology is. Think of James Bond’s spy shoes, except they fly, look cooler than a pair of brogues, and can easily surveil or even kill you.
Drone usage started small and is getting big. Back in 2016, there were bold predictions that drone usage would triple by 2020. The reality has exceeded that number. A report from June shows that the commercial drone market is growing fairly rapidly with no signs it will slow down:
“The drone manufacturing industry is maturing – and so are drone customers. As the capabilities of drones increase, they are used for more sophisticated and specific applications.”
While almost anyone could buy and fly a drone a few short years ago (obviously not very close to an airport or a takeoff or landing path) there are a lot more rules today than there ever have been:
- New FAA rules require all drones to be registered unless they weigh less than 0.55lbs and are used recreationally. There are two types of registration in the United States, part 107 and recreational.
- You must now mark your drone physically with the registration number.
- For business usage of a drone, FAA suggests you keep a flight log. They can request information if there is a situation they choose to investigate.
- It is now illegal to shoot down a drone even if it’s over your own property and you suspect it of recording you. Drones are protected by the NTSB as aircraft.
Tim George, an Erie, Pennsylvania lawyer, cautions us against believing we are still in the Wild, Wild West of drone flight:
“Anyone choosing to operate a drone needs to follow all registration and licensing requirements where they live. It’s important for every drone operator to remember that there might be municipal law they need to follow, as well as state and federal law. Being unaware of applicable drone laws will be no defense to criminal infractions or potential civil claims.”
But how well are people following the law?
Not very, as this iPhone picture I actually took while writing this story highlights. This was taken at the observatory on the top of a mountain in a large North American city, with the premise being that this athlete and his team were using a (pretty intrusive) drone to film him running down a set of stairs.
It is worth noting that I had the same permission in taking that picture as did the person in the pic and their team did in capturing my image, as the drone circled above and around me. In other words, absolutely none.
Ricky Leighton, a Maine-based certified drone pilot and video expert, cautions us that this type of poor behavior will lead to together regulation:
“There are two things to consider here. The first is that drone pilots need to closely observe any rules and legislation where they choose to operate their drone. The second is a bit more nuanced in that there has to be common courtesy as to where, when, and how we operate our drones. The less courtesy we give, the stricter the regulations will eventually be.“
And don’t think that drones are or will be limited to consumer use. While relaxing in the park and having someone send their drone to hover ten inches from your face is pretty annoying, more serious drones for enterprise use are dramatically on the rise.
A year ago, Skydio announced that they had raised an additional $100M financing round to continue what many fees is controversial work with governments and private enterprise. More simply put, some fear that this rockstar ex-MIT and GoogleX team are making mass surveillance drones and less than savory deals.
Given that one of their competitors, DJI, owns nearly 80% of the commercial drone market, multiple aggressive startups flush with cash are seeking to shake loose some of that market share as they grow their market cap.
As drones become more prevalent in our daily lives, our initial pushback against them may be dulled by their ubiquity. Like any other new technology, even one that can be pretty scary when we consider all of its dimensions, time usually gets us comfortable with things we expect would always stretch our comfort zone.
Aron Solomon is the head of digital strategy for Esquire Digital and has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania. Since earning his law degree, Solomon has spent the last two decades advising law firms and attorneys. He founded LegalX, the world’s first legal technology accelerator and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the world’s leading legal innovators. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
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