NPR has been discussing drones quite a bit in the last couple weeks. The question they keep asking (a question we
asked first have discussed as well) is: who owns the space above your house?
The video below features NPR’s Steve Henn explaining the FAA’s rules as they currently stand – and his visual aid is unmatched:
NPR also provides some accessible answer to some basic drone questions:
I’m a hobbyist. When am I breaking the law?
Breaking the law is probably the wrong way to put it. Back in 1981, the Federal Aviation Administration issued voluntary guidelines for hobbyists flying model airplanes (which, as it happens, are pretty similar to those things we now call drones). Basically, regulators asked hobbyists just not to fly near airports and to fly below 400 feet.
What else besides making videos and taking images can these drones be used for?
Skynet-like surveillance notwithstanding, you could sort of think of a drone as a cellphone or a little computer with wings. It could be equipped with any kind of sensors that monitor air quality or emit a Wi-Fi signal. Both Facebook and Google are investigating ways to use solar powered drones to supply cheap Wi-Fi connections all over the world.
There’s a small startup in Silicon Valley called Matternet. It is exploring ways a network of drones could be used to help connect people in disparate parts of the world. It hopes drones could help alleviate poverty for close to 1 billion people who are cut off at least part of the year because the roads where they live are impassable. It has also experimented with using drones to deliver medical supplies to places affected by disasters.
What is going to happen when these drones are everywhere? If I see one out of my window, what can I do?
When it comes to drones and your privacy rights, the only laws on the books are being written by state legislatures, and so far the results have been all over the map. Though grabbing your shotgun and shooting a drone out of the air is still likely to get you in some trouble.
Do drones pollute the air? Are they dangerous?
Most drones run on batteries, so there’s no direct air pollution. Interestingly, many environmental groups would like to use drones with sensors to monitor air pollution around facilities such as smokestacks. Some have argued that this could be a cheap way to enforce environmental laws that often go unenforced.
Can a drone be dangerous? Sure. A little drone could be as dangerous as any other 5-pound object dropped from 400 feet in the air. With more drones in the air, that’s a greater possibility. And if a drone hits a plane, it could be very, very bad.
Is anyone talking about a legal age limit for drone owners? Or a drone license?
The FAA has been talking a lot about drone licenses. It has opened a series of test sites around the country. Those sites may ultimately end up certifying the airworthiness of drones and those who fly them.
For more on the history of the ownership of the space over your house check out NPR.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com