Slate says 2015 was the year of the drones… it is right but the flight of the drones continues. 2016 will be bigger

January 2, 2016 |

Slate in 2015 Was the Year of the Drone does a very good breezy, summation of the impact of drones last year.  It provides:

So … you really like drones, huh?”

I’ve been getting this leading question a lot lately, often from friends and acquaintances who are mildly surprised that my work at Slate has shifted from sporadic articles about sports and media and my own buffoonery to regular stories about unmanned aerial systems. Sometimes my questioners are excited about this shift, because they themselves are drone enthusiasts and want to pick my brain on the topic. But more often than not, the question is posed in a tone that implies two follow-up questions: “Why do you write so much about drones?” and “Will you please stop writing so much about drones?”

These are both valid questions. Now that we’re approaching the end of the year, I’d like to take a moment to address them.

In many ways, 2015 was the Year of the Drone: the year that unmanned aerial systems normalized to the point where you can now buy them at, like, 7-Eleven. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that 1.6 million consumer drones will be sold in the United States this year, to people from all walks of life: kids, photographers, gadget enthusiasts, your nosy neighbor. But for every American who loves drones, I’d bet that there are at least 10 more Americans who find them deeply annoying, even alarming. Many of these naysayers are reacting negatively as much to the surrounding hype as to the drones themselves. 2015 has been the Year of the Drone, yes—but the title was not conferred by unanimous consent.

Before we talk about why people do like drones, it’s important to talk about why they don’t. For one thing, people dislike the recklessness with which many drone users have acted while flying their drones in public. If 2015 was the Year of the Drone, then it has also been a year of drone-related mishaps, largely thanks to untrained, inattentive, or heedless drone pilots. Over the course of the year, drones:

The list of drone misadventures goes on and on. It would be one thing if these errant drones were just dumb pieces of machinery, like a runaway Roomba with wings. But it’s impossible to separate an unwanted drone sighting from the knowledge that there is a human on the other end of the drone—and that he or she might well be watching you.

2015 was also the Year of People Taking the Law Into Their Own Hands in Order to Get Rid of Drones.

People don’t like being watched—or, more accurately, they don’t like feeling like they’re being watched. From the ground it can be hard to tell whether an overhead drone is or is not equipped with a camera, so most people just assume that the drone in question is an uninvited eye in the sky. It is this not-unjustifiable paranoia that leads to people like the “Drone Slayer”—the Kentucky man arrested in July after shooting down a drone that had allegedly crossed onto his property. In October, the criminal case against the Drone Slayer was dismissed, with the judge finding that the defendant was just protecting his right to privacy when he grabbed his shotgun and blasted away.

Similarly the Slate article catches the ubiquity of drones with This Holiday Season, Don’t Drink and Drone. The Economist follows suit with Suddenly, there are drones everywhere. There are those who question the worth of drones (see  Privacy invasion, injuries, and lawsuits – are drones worth it?) but there are too many worthwhile uses for drones even if the regulations are inadequate and the legal protections for individuals are woeful.  The law should, though may not for some time, catch up.

The problem in the United States of America is that the Federal regulations that were introduced late last year have come late compared to efforts by many states to regulate the use of drones.  There is a lack of complementarity as the Federal Rules are significantly more lenient than state laws.   This is not a problem that Australia has.  The States have demonstrated next to no interest in the regulation of drones.  As a result when the Commonwealth Government introduces revised rules on drones there will not be legislative confusion.  Sometimes being lethargic has its advantages.  The problem remains that neither Federal or State Governments in Australia acknowledge the necessity to regulate drones beyond the height in which they fly and where.  Issues of privacy and safety are not addressed.

One Response to “Slate says 2015 was the year of the drones… it is right but the flight of the drones continues. 2016 will be bigger”

  1. Slate says 2015 was the year of the drones… it is right but the flight of the drones continues. 2016 will be bigger | Australian Law Blogs

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