It was the blinking lights outside the 10th-story window of her San Jose, California, condo that startled Elsvette Buenaventura from her bed last year. When she drew back the curtain, a small drone hovered a few feet away. In the days that followed, it returned at least three more times.
Such stories have prompted lawmakers in a half-dozen U.S. states to outlaw the use of drones to snoop on people’s homes. More states are set to follow.
“We don’t know what he was looking for with his camera-drone,” said Buenaventura, 32. “All we felt was a violation of our privacy.”
For less than $1,000, small, remotely operated aircraft are increasingly available on the Internet and at hobby stores, and some can be equipped with equally affordable high-definition cameras. At the same time, some of America’s biggest companies — names like Chevron Corp. and BNSF Railway Co. — are pushing to use drones for everything from pipeline inspection to land surveys. Their use has pushed lawmakers to weigh the rights of drone pilots against the potential for nefarious intrusions.
Camera-equipped drones have commercial uses — they can inspect crops, photograph real estate and survey land. As the government figures out how to regulate that activity, it has begun rapidly granting waivers from federal rules to drones-for-hire. Scores of companies have obtained permission to fly them.
Rules differ for mere enthusiasts. Officially, small drones may be flown only by hobbyists who belong to community-based organizations such as the Muncie, Indiana, Academy of Model Aeronautics and follow its rules. But growing numbers of non-members are sending them aloft.
Conflict is on the rise. A New Jersey man last year shot down a drone flying over his neighborhood. Last June, a woman in Connecticut was arrested after she was accused of assaulting a young man flying a helicopter drone over a public beach.
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