Consumer drones are coming, and they will change everything

I recently spent a week flying the DJI Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter. It’s a 2.5 pound drone with an attached camera and easy flight controls, and I loved it.

The Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter. Photo courtesy of DJI

The Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter. Photo courtesy of DJI

But I also had repeat unsettling occurrences while flying the drone. The first was, of course, the crashes. I hit a car. I botched a landing and slammed down on a stranger’s roof. But more unsettling was the accidental footage and pictures I caught of the inside of people’s apartments.


The experience taught me that a camera attached to a flying machine could have a bigger impact than we all imagine on the way we live.

Drones are dangerous

When they hear the word “drone,” most people think of the bomb-dropping variety. Those aren’t landing in consumer hands anytime soon.

Personal drones are smaller, lighter and are most likely carrying a camera. But when an accident occurs and one is dropped from several hundred feet in the air, they can still be dangerous.

In late September, a man flew a Phantom over New York City for about three minutes before a collision with a building caused it to crash several feet in front of a pedestrian. It’s beautiful footage, but the pilot repeatedly bounces the aircraft off of buildings, creating a series of dangerous situations.

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After a week with the Phantom, it’s easy to imagine how a situation like that can happen. As many safety features as you build into a piece of technology, human and machine glitches (or recklessness) still occur.

Right now, the only rules governing private drone use state they cannot be flown higher than 400 feet or near an airport. It is illegal to use them to make money. Congress had directed that they be made legal for commercial use by late 2015, but the FAA delayed setting firm rules to allow more time to consider the implications. Several states have already enacted or considered placing rules on hobby and commercial drones.

It’s easy to invade people’s privacy

In the dense streets of San Francisco, it’s not uncommon to catch glimpses inside the apartments of the people who reside across the street from you or live at street level.┬áBut people who live on higher floors can have a general expectation of privacy, despite their blinds being open.

DJI Phantom 2 QuadcopterThey can’t when drones are around. In one video — totally by accident — I filmed a room where you can see a couch that someone has been using as a bed, perhaps revealing an illegal housing situation or personal drama; or maybe just a house guest.

It’s a reality that will inform, and limit, my future use of drones. When I use my DSLR, I’m very aware of others’ privacy and never invade that space. That should extend to drone photography too. It will also inform how people live in a world where drones are more common. Blinds will be closed more often. Like a handheld camera, it’s certain someone will use them in an inappropriate way.

They’re awesome

Despite the dangers, drones have a place. They make taking incredible aerial videos and photos easy, which doesn’t just appeal to hobbyists. Agriculture has emerged as an area where they are already being adopted because of the benefits. A drone can tell a farmer which crops are ripe or where a fence needs to be mended. They could totally replace reporting from a helicopter for TV reporters or be programmed to follow and film the football in an NFL game.


The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0. Photo courtesy of Nicolas Halftermeyer

Like any new medium, drones are going to cause some friction. But they’re also going to provide a very cool new way to create. A world where photographers shoot weddings from the air and drones deliver packages (and maybe tacos) is a world in which I can’t wait to live.