When I fly a new drone in public or tell somebody I work with drones, the responses fall into one of two categories: genuine interest or cynical apprehension. The interested people usually launch into a flurry of questions about how a drone works, how I got started and what kind of footage I have captured. The skeptics always have the same reaction. They either say “What happens if it crashes?” or “That looks like a great way to spy on your neighbors.”
These are by far the two most common concerns people have with drones and they are totally legitimate… to an extent.
More often than not, these misgivings are rooted in innocent misunderstanding so let’s look at them objectively.
1) “What if a drone falls out of the sky and crashes (into me)?”
Someone who subscribes to this line of thinking believes he dislikes drones but, in reality, is nervous due to a lack of understanding.
The answer to the question “What if a drone crashes in my neighborhood?” is, “It would be terrible, possibly tragic.” If that seems like an unsatisfactory answer,
than you are probably the person who is nervous about the rising popularity of drones consider that changing the word “drone” to “car” or “plane” would yield the same answer. The only reason “drone” elicits such a strong response is because drones are, for the most part, still unknown entities.
As The New York Times’ Jelani Cobb puts it, “What we fear are fanciful tragedies — those that come at us in ways we have not yet accepted as commonplace.”
This is perfectly natural. The same apprehension surrounds the rise of any new disruptive technology.
But, like cars and planes in their infancy, it’s in everyone’s best interest drones don’t crash in your neighborhood. If they did, nobody would buy them and the manufacturers would get sued faster than you could say “Heisenberg”.
Manufacturers want you to buy their drones.
They don’t want you to sue them.
So, they are building drones that maximize their potential at making money and minimize the chances of lawsuits. And they know the best way to do that is to make the drones as safe as possible.
Drones Are Becoming More Popular Because They Are Getting Safer
The feature that will go down as the catalyst that gave rise to the modern drone is position hold. The fact that a user could release the controller and have their aircraft maintain its location along an XYZ axis via GPS is what made drones like the DJI Phantom so popular. If you were momentarily distracted or navigated into a crowded space, you could let go of the remote and know that your thousand dollar rig wasn’t going to come crashing down (on someone’s head).
This feature, developed in the name of safety, turned RC airplanes into drones the same way internet connectivity turned cellphones into smartphones.
And it was just the tip of the iceberg.
Drones today can land themselves -either at their point of origin or at the location of the pilot- as a standard feature. Some models like DJI’s Inspire 1 and Parrot’s Bebop have cameras and image processing software so they can ‘see’ where they are in space (incidentally, this is a great use of image recognition software. I would much rather a drone recognize my face and then not hit it than I would have Facebook recognize my face and automatically tag me photos… but we will get to privacy in a moment). Still other drones like sensefly’s eXOM use sonar to perceive their surroundings and avoid crashes.
By giving drones eyes and ears, they are getting smarter, and therefore safer, every day.
And the smarter they get, the more attractive they become to the consumer.
So really, the rise in popularity of drones is a direct result of the increase in their safety.
2) “It Will Violate My Privacy”
Despite all the amazing safety features being built into drones, it still takes considerable skill to pilot one consistently without crashing.
Even if you’re neighbor spends the time to become an expert pilot and masters control of his camera, it is very difficult for him to spy on you with a drone.
Drones still have fairly limited flight times and, more importantly, they are very loud.
You know how you can walk into a room and hear a fly buzzing around? You can’t see it yet because it’s tiny, but that little guy makes an awful lot of noise for something so small.
Imagine how loud that fly would be if it weighed five pounds and had four eight-inch wings.
Now imagine that fly trying to sneak up on you.
You are going to hear it coming well before it gets close enough to take your picture.
If somehow you still manage to be surprised when a drone appears somewhere in your neighborhood, don’t freak out because…
You’re Not a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake
I know we live in this world of selfies and personal blogs but, and I hate to be the one to tell you this, you are not that big of a deal. A vast majority of people with a drone couldn’t give two shits about what you are doing in the privacy of your own home. (And I’m sure, in most cases, that same majority doesn’t want to know.)
Almost every story you have heard about a drone “violating someone’s privacy” is a
narcissist’s paranoid person’s knee-jerk reaction to seeing a drone in the sky, followed by some of the most intellectually insulting click bait headlines courtesy of local news outlets. These people (including reporters) have only heard of drones used for surveillance and/or military purposes so, when they see one, they automatically assume that’s what it’s doing.
This is precisely what happened in Seattle last June. Candace Hackett saw a drone flying outside her apartment and called the cops because “Big Brother much?” (her words).
The local ABC affiliate immediately jumped on the story with the headline Seattle Woman Calls Police on Peeping Drone.
Of course, it took less than a week for the pilot to come forward and quell the hysteria by explaining he was taking panoramic pictures for a client that was building a 20-story office building in Ms. Hackett’s neighborhood.
And this non-story has been repeated ad nauseum.
It happened in New Jersey, except instead of calling the cops, the suspicious onlookers just shot the drone down (and were arrested).
It happened in Connecticut, except the woman who thought she was being spied on attacked the pilot (and was also arrested).
And it happened in Denver, except the drone had gotten away from the pilot and crashed.
Sure there are creeps who are flying drones for the wrong reasons, but as Mr. Cobb points out, “this is a prospect not altogether unrelated to the possibility that the neighbor in the 11th-floor apartment across the street from you is not using that telescope to locate Andromeda.”
In fact, that scenario is way easier to set up and conceal than a drone.
So, if you see a drone hovering in a peculiar place, it is far more likely that the pilot is either trying to take a sweet new pic for his Facebook banner, making a quick buck, or simply lost control of his machine.
Assuming every person with a DJI Phantom is out to spy on you is like assuming everyone with a gun is out to kill you.
And when you assume, you make an ass out of yourself. And no one else.
Is drone technology perfect? Of course not. But it is getting better and it is much more advanced than most people believe.
What do you think? Are you still concerned about drones? Let us know in the comments.
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