Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, a/k/a drones, are making headlines almost daily. People are very afraid of this new technology, and I'm not sure why. We are not out to be high-tech peeping Toms — at least most of us aren't. As with ANY device (car, gun, butter knife, whatever), there will always be someone who misuses it and gives a black eye to an entire industry.
Recently, a Louisville man shot down a device he claimed was photographing his daughter, who was supposedly sunbathing in the back yard. His claim was shot to pieces (pun intended) when the UAV operator show his recorded flight path. He destroyed the shooter's story that the UAV "hovered" at 8 feet above his back yard. The device clearly flew — without hovering — at 200 feet or more. The shooter went to jail.
In another incident that was captured on video, a hobby UAV pilot was flying over an empty field while a girls' soccer game was being played in an adjacent field. One player's dad came over and harassed the pilot, implying that he was a pervert for photographing young girls.
First off, the pilot was not flying over the soccer field. He might have inadvertently gotten the action on camera, but he was not trying. And if he did, so what? It is perfectly legal to photograph people in public places WITHOUT their permission. As a veteran journalist, I know this to be true. Chill, people. I'll even bet there were parents on the sidelines shooting their 35mm digital cameras with long lenses, getting much clearer, identifiable, photos. Why wasn't this dad stopping that?
Then there are the non-news reports of "near misses," where a drone supposedly gets too close to a 747. Yes, there are rules about flying too close to an airport. And yes, there are idiots who violate that. But reports list hundreds of near misses monthly.
One airline pilot has poo-pooed the whole idea, saying that birds strikes are common and more dangerous, yet the media doesn't have a breaking news story every time a jet collides with a goose.
I even watched congressional hearings on the dangers personal drones create for airplanes. One pilot, who was there to testify against UAVs, said, "We can't even see them!" Wait, if you can't see them, how are there hundreds of near-miss reports? This has been blown way out of proportion.
Has anyone discussed the possibilities that UAVs could be used for the good of mankind? Uses include search and rescue, news gathering, fire training, arson investigation, rooftop inspection — the list goes on and on. I even saw a report that a drone carried a rope to a stranded flood victim. He used the rope to be rescued. Imagine that.
The FAA, the great overseers of the skies, is currently trying to develop drone regulations. Their first proposals were so ridiculous it wasn't even funny. They're easing restrictions, but it'll still be too much, I think. We'll see.
For the public, please don't overreact when you see a drone. They will become more common as time goes on. Remember this: When cars were introduced, people were so worried a law was passed that all cars had to have someone running ahead of the car carrying flags to warn all the pedestrians of the deadly machine that followed. I'm glad we got over that!
Let's not try to ban UAVs from the skies because of what MIGHT happen. Someday, someone will strap a bomb to one and fly it into a crowd. That will not be the drone's fault; the terrorists will be to blame. We didn't ban trucks when Timothy McVeigh loaded one with fertilizer and blew up a building in Oklahoma City. We didn't ban airliners when some radical fools flew them into the World Trade Center. We don't ban cars every time some DUI or texter slams head-on into a carload of teenagers. Don't be so quick to ban drones.
They are relatively safe, too. When was the last time you heard of a UAV crashing into a crowd and injuring people? What about a plane? Think about it.
I'm not sure we're ready to deliver pizzas with a drone yet, but we're getting there. Meantime, please try to embrace this new technology. I predict it will lead to your grandchildren flying to work rather than driving.
Writer James Mulcahy
spent 35 years as a newspaper journalist at small and large papers. He is currently a freelance photographer/writer/graphics designer, and he drives a school bus.