Drones: Are they becoming a nuisance?
The invention of drones have opened up a lot of new possibilities in robotics. It used to be an exclusive military technology (like the internet) but later on found itself in the hands of consumers. Last year, the Consumer Technology Association projected drone sales to reach up to 700,000 shipments. They also projected an increase in sales of 57% by this year.
But the increasing popularity of drones is also causing a lot of anxiety and distress amongst other citizens and even law enforcers. Drones, unlike other gadgets, have had a reputation of annoying next door neighbors or even causing a ruckus at an airport runway.
Misuse of drones
Just last April, a British Airways pilot complained about a drone that struck his plane as they poised for landing at the London Heathrow Airport. The A320 that flew to London from Geneva was claimed by the pilot to have been hit by a drone as they landed at Terminal 5 of the airport. The plane was inspected and cleared for the next flight but the incident sparked worry amongst other pilots.
A news report from the The Guardian stated that “the airline pilots’ union called for an investigation into the likely effects of a drone strike on an aircraft after a report by the UK Airprox Board found that there were 23 near-misses between drones and aircraft in the six months between April and October last year.”
But airports are not the only places where drones and their owners are causing mischief. Even correctional facilities are having a hard time warding off drones that deliver contraband right at the prison yard. In a recent CNN report, a Maryland inmate has confessed to using a drone to deliver his package of contraband over a 12-foot barbed fence. The unmanned aerial vehicle went undetected even at the presence of cameras, spotlights, and roving guards.
Setting drone regulations
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is the agency responsible for regulating the use (and misuse) of drones. Though there have been proposals for each state to have their own rules in regulating drones, the FAA continued to take its stand as the key authority in handling drone issues. It actually released some guidelines, as stated in the FAA pre-flight checklist:
- fly below 400 feet
- always fly within visual line of sight
- be aware of FAA airspace requirements
- never fly over groups of people
- never fly over stadiums and sports events
- never fly within 5 miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control and airport authorities
- never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
- never fly near other aircraft
- never fly under the influence
But this is not the complete operations guide on drones from the FAA. The complete document was just released this year and has a whopping 624 pages to read for drone users. It’s pretty comprehensive for an agency that is determined to regulate the hobby.
But can there be a way to limit drone strikes? What about illegal drone deliveries?
Believe it or not, there are now. With drones becoming the little pesky flying robots, a company called Dedrone has developed a way to deactivate the drones once they fly within a restricted area or no-fly zone. Imagine a dome-shaped force field that protects the place from quadcopters. This fan-shaped device can be installed in any structure (ideally several of these scattered in the perimeter of a property.) Users who try to use their drones for no good will fail to control their drones once it enters the Dedrone field.
Other means of regulating these flying devices is to install a geo-mapping system that will “teach” a drone not to fly in a prohibited zone. The coordinates will be incorporated in the devices and will automatically prevent drones from heading straight to an airport runway for example.
These technologies though are still fairly new and have not trickled down to the consumer market. Drone sales however are still rising, which becomes a concern for agencies like the FAA who now should deal with these small gadgets other than the airplanes that zoom into airspace.
For now, drone users may still enjoy some freedom but expect more stringent responses from authorities in the years ahead.