By now you’ve probably heard it all when it comes to drones: They are providing a way for big brother to spy on our every move! They are being used by criminals to move drugs! They are falling out of the sky and hurting people, posing a threat to anyone below!
While there are examples of these practices happening in the past, they are isolated incidents given far more attention than the much more common, humanitarian uses for drones.
That being said, there are some beliefs people have about consumer drones that are just straight-up incorrect.
So here’s a few UAV myths we can quickly dispel:
Myth 1: The Box Says ‘Drone’ So It Must Be A Drone
This one has been driving me mad for a few months now, as I have a well-meaning buddy that purchased a $35 RC mini quadcopter from the local gas station up the road (yes, you read that right, they sell cheap RC toys at my local gas station) who can’t stop bragging about his sweet “drone.”
Not wanting to be too much of a stick in the mud, I’ve mostly let this pass by uncontested, but I can’t help but admit it kind of rankles (think nails on a chalkboard) me every time I hear it. In this author’s opinion, a craft must operate autonomously in some way (auto-leveling/hover, CPU stabilized flight, GPS assisted flight etc.) while also carrying some form of sensing or visual recording equipment (infrared, NDVI, GoPro camera, etc), in order to qualify as a drone.
If your “drone” lacks both of those characteristics, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself, because you’re flying an RC helicopter, buddy.
Myth 2: Police, Media Have Free Reign:
Many believe that law enforcement (LE) and the mainstream media are two areas of society where drone use has the potential to become particularly exploitative and, in some cases, come into conflict with the United States Constitution.
Naturally then, state legislators put forth significant effort in 2014 in making it difficult for LE users and the media to trample on the rights of the private citizens who elected them. California, for example, passed legislation requiring LE to obtain a warrant for any drone mission aside from emergency search-and-rescue situations, and in September 2014 Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2306, amending state privacy laws to outlaw use of a drone for photographing subjects where “a reasonable expectation of privacy is expected.”
Then there’s nearby red state Idaho, where lawmakers also approved restrictions on LE using drones without a warrant for surveillance, although the Idaho law has more exemptions – such as one that allows warrantless use of a drone during drug trafficking investigations – than its California counterpart.
Myth 3: Drones Aren’t Useful Yet Because They Can Only Fly So High And For So Long
Sure, most consumer-class UAVs are currently limited to between 15-30 minutes tops on flight time, but there’s a whole other class of flying robots that are being engineered to fly very high and for very long distances.
There’s SteadiDrone’s QU4D X, which claims a 60 minute flight time and the ability to carry a 8 kilo payload, and then at the other end of the UAV spectrum there’s Boeing’s impressive Phantom EYE, a liquid hydrogen fueled, military grade reconnaissance craft the company claims is capable of maintaining its altitude for up to four days while carrying a 450-pound payload.
And innovators like Google, Amazon and DHL are in the midst of research projects that harness hybrid power (gas + electricity, similar to a hybrid car) to fly for even longer distances and durations.