On Drones

During class, it was interesting to hear about people’s opinions on drones. The general feeling seems to be one more of caution and fear than one of excitement over the developing technological breakthroughs that are occurring. Perhaps it is my naïveté or my overconfidence in the humanity of people, but I’m inclined to think that people, at least those purchasing drones from commercial makers, will be using them for relatively harmless purposes, whether to fly things recreationally or for photo and video purposes.

Of course, this comes with my own biases, as a drone owner. Last fall, I purchased a DJI Mavic Pro, which is one of the most popular consumer-level drones. Priced at a bit over $1,000, it was a big investment for me. Only after purchasing it did I begin looking into the regulations around flying in Boston. They’re pretty reasonable, and largely outlined here: https://www.faa.gov/uas/faqs/#ffr. I registered my drone, paying the $5 or $10 without much complaint. I’m not entirely sure what that registration really does, but it emailed me a little certificate with a number that I’ve never referenced once since. I’d say the majority of people who purchase drones and use them as hobbyists are doing it for fun or for photography or videography purposes. The percentage of people spending upwards of a thousand dollars to surveil people is relatively small. It’s important to consider the image quality derived from a drone that costs a thousand dollars. It’s not superb, especially when you’re flying overhead at at least 100 feet in the air. At least for me, I don’t think I would be able to discern and identify individuals from the imagery I collect.

I do believe drones should be regulated, especially at the pace at which the technology is developing. I don’t think it is fair to make it more difficult than it already is for people to fly drones recreationally. I do think policies surrounding drone usage should be standardized across states. Nothing is more irritating than traveling to another country and realizing it will cost another $x to register your drone for your week-long visit. Generally, legislation always lags behind technology. And so, I am sympathetic to policymakers, however it is not an excuse for a coherent and sensible set of laws on drone regulation. There needs to be greater distinction between drone users, other than hobbyists and commercial/professional flyers. Perhaps a classification distinguishing between those using it for photography and surveillance and other purposes. Overall, drones are an incredibly exciting technology, allowing for greater exploration of our natural landscapes, but can also pose as a safety and privacy threat — we can only hope that lawmakers will be able to formulate sensible policies moving forward.

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