Q97 Snapshot: Droning On
We had a little incident last month. My radio partner, Billy, was taking a leisurely stroll at Clover Creek Preserve with his wife and dogs and was “buzzed” by what he termed a drone. What he identified as a drone, I called a toy. Nonetheless, Billy was not amused. I didn’t quite share his anger or concern, but he felt his personal space had been invaded. Had he been spied upon? Had it been recorded? Who would do such a thing? It ended up being a local hobbyist with an expensive remote controlled device armed with a Go-Pro camera. Billy’s close encounter was downright invasive and creepy, but essentially harmless. This particular operator was misguided, but these machines do have some legitimate uses.
First, the proper term for these devices is Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), and we’re seeing more and more of them. Media organizations now use them to gather footage for news stories (it’s much cheaper than hiring or maintaining a helicopter). Amazon.com is testing UAVs to deliver small packages directly to a customer’s door. Police agencies and emergency responders can assess for safety at disaster sites. Fire departments can use them as an investigative tool, to map blazes, and even guide crews on the ground. Farmers fly over to check crops and map agricultural land. Some cities and companies are even inspecting buildings, communications towers and bridges for cracks or damage. These are the types of UAVs manufactured in Redding at a company called AIRCOVER Integrated Solutions (they didn’t return my inquiry).
For the toy kind, you can go to a local hobby shop right now and purchase one. I spoke to All Around RC and Hobbies in Redding and they have a wide variety of quadrotors or quadcopters, ranging from a basic model at $39.99 to a $419 version that comes with a camera.
If you want to go all out, you can assemble your own with readily available components that give you a five-plus mile radius at a height around 1,500 feet, dual cameras that record the flight in high definition and transmit video to you in real time (so you can see where you’re going), and GPS tracking that automatically returns the craft to you at the push of a button. One of our coworkers built his own souped-up version, and spent about $3,000 in the process! As for what most of us have coined a true drone, they are the size of a small passenger aircraft and used primarily by the military for surveillance and targeted bombings overseas. More recently, they have been used to patrol the United States/Mexican border. Redding was interested in being a drone test location, but ultimately lost out to a site in Nevada.
Recent polls about drones show Americans are extremely critical of their use in the United States, with privacy listed as the main concern. Many states, including California, have bills pending that would severely limit drone use to emergency services only. One state has issued a two-year ban on all drones until proper legislation can be passed. In any case, these UAVs are here to stay: They truly are the wave of the future. Proponents say they are inexpensive and can be used in place of a human in dangerous situations, ultimately saving lives.
I’m not sure I can convince Billy that most UAVs are harmless, especially since we arranged a repeat performance by the drone as a practical joke while we were live on-air. Let’s just say it did NOT go over well, but I’ll keep working on him. Matter of fact, the hobby store is still open…maybe I’ll zip over and get him one as a gift!