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

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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.

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– Daily Mail

 


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  • Dog Breath

    Only a matter of time before these or other relatively cheap aircraft are used to do something terrible.

  • Isherman

    I can see a potentially lucrative market for counter – UAV technology following hot on the heels of the drones themselves. If one was hovering over my backyard without permission and for no better reason I would feel justified in shooting it down so to speak. I imagine most celebrities etc would happily invest in an anti drone system installed in the mansion grounds.

    • Andru

      I agree. Maybe it’s a good time to buy shares in boomerangs, bolas, shotguns, water balloon canons, crossbows…. though the problem with them is you can see where they were launched. So perhaps a sonic weapon or something that hijacks the command or a directed EMP. I think the countermeasures will be very interesting…

      • Isherman

        Lots of potential options exist. Basically you can either interrupt the signal, the rotors, or just plain physically destroy it by any particular method. My pick would be that a ‘capture command’ type system would be the most broadly appealing, as you wouldn’t really want one to drop out of the sky from 700ft on to a crowd of people etc, so if you could ‘hijack’ it and control its landing you can decrease the risk of unintended consequences. You also get the thing intact.

        • Andru

          Time for someone to create a tractor beam!

          I guess we will see a rise of counter-countermeasures on drones like forcefields which are as sci-fi as drones themselves.

    • dgrogan

      A kind of “Iron Dome” mobile all-weather air defence system. What a great idea.

  • All_on_Red

    This will stop them. Possibly needs to be a bit smaller though…
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-14/u-s-navy-deploys-its-first-laser-weapon-in-the-persian-gulf.html
    Apparently it’s now fully operational. Fascinating to see the US Navy have a ship named after Russel Norman.

  • Guest

    They have a ship called Whinging Aussie Git?

  • Cadae

    This is the usual headline grabbing luddite beat-up on technology. Binoculars, telephoto lenses and remote listening devices have been invading privacy for decades. Kites, rockets, balloons, birds and rc planes have been a threat to aircraft for decades, and there’s any number of ordinary household items whose killing power is far greater than drones.
    As with any technology, I don’t deny there will be some problems e.g. taggers using them to tag high-profile locations in hard to clean-up locations, but the risks from drones is more than made up for by their extraordinary usefulness and entertainment value, and existing regulations are already designed to help keep flying threats away from planes. It’s going to be a fun future with these machines – I look forward to races and three-dimensional ‘fighting drone’ competitions – like fighting robots.

  • Garbageman
  • dgrogan

    Silly question: “Can property owners register any kind of ‘air space’ rights over their properties?”
    I know a couple of Iwi looked into the possibilities, when dollar signs flashed before their eyes (but without success, fortunately).

  • Brian Badonde

    I have an airpowered shot gun (for shooting sparrows in my warehouse). Its nice and quiet. Might have to bring it home when the neighbours fly their drone into our airspace with its little camera on board.

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