You may still be dreaming of a hoverboard, but drones are now a retail item


It is estimated that more than 30,000 drones will have been bought by British consumers by the end of the year — a high proportion of them as Christmas presents. The electronics chain Maplin says that sales within its stores are up 300 per cent on 2013.

But as drones move from the battlefield into our back gardens and parks, serious questions are increasingly being asked about their safety.

This week, it emerged that a passenger jet was involved in a near miss with a drone near Heathrow airport in July. The pilot was flying at an altitude of 700ft when he saw the unauthorised machine, which was invisible to radar, flying near his plane.

There was a similar incident at Southend Airport two months earlier — and more recently a Virgin Atlantic pilot reported seeing a drone as he came in to land at New York’s JFK airport.

Frightening stuff, given that if a drone were sucked into a jet plane’s engine, it could have the same effect as a bird strike, which might prove catastrophic on take-off or landing.

Drones have been put to other dangerous uses, too. In October, a European Championship football match between Serbia and Albania descended into a riot after a drone was deliberately flown inside the stadium in Belgrade trailing an Albanian flag, much to the fury of the Serbs.

And sometimes they simply end up causing accidents. In New York this week, a TGI Friday’s restaurant used a hovering drone dangling a piece of mistletoe to encourage dining couples to kiss each other. Unfortunately, after colliding with one woman’s hand, it took a lump out of her nose.

I can see licensing not being too far away in the future.   

However, a more serious issue relating to drones is their ability to invade just about anyone’s privacy. Because it’s possible to attach a camera to them, it is relatively simple to fly over someone’s property and take a picture of whatever they might happen to be doing in private.

Indeed, paparazzi drones have become Hollywood’s most feared gate- crashers, deploying long-lens cameras and video recorders over the private retreats of the stars.

One of those to complain vociferously was the singer Miley Cyrus, who spotted one hovering over her garden. Oscar-winner Ben Affleck’s actress wife Jennifer Garner has also reported seeing them flying over her property.

As a result of such intrusions, American law-makers are seeking to extend privacy laws to include the use of drones.

News organisations will increasingly employ drones to obtain footage of incidents and locations where other people or vehicles can’t go.  But it will be the untrained cowboys that are going to drive the calls for “something to be done” just so that only licensed operators can do the more substantial things.

One of the software changes I believe is needed is a “invisible dome” function where the drone can’t be taken higher or further away from a set limit, at which point they refuse to go any further.  This should be hard-coded in the firmware.   Although easily hacked by those with the interest to do so, it would at least keep 99% of the consumer amateurs from flying their toys into planes.

One thing is for sure – as more affordable and feature rich models make it to market, this particular “hobby” is going to be catching the headlines for all the wrong reasons for quite some time.


– Daily Mail

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