Drone popularity has been increasing across the board with continued advances in the technology and use cases. Drones can range from the size of a deck of cards to being able to carry a 500 pound load.
So far this year, 3.5 million hobby drones have already been sold in addition to the 2+ million larger drones registered with the FAA.
The pandemic played a substantial part in this boost for a number of reasons. In Minnesota, drone racing was one of the only high school sports that was not canceled. Thanks to RdyTechGo, a 12-state Youth Drone Sports League, players were able to participate while maintaining social-distance.
Players could meet at RdyTechGo facilities for competitions but also had the ability to build their own standardized race courses in their homes and compete online with other players who had built their own course. “The growth has been absolutely crazy” stated Aaron Skyes, a local organizer. Drone education is making its way into universities and other schools all around, but students aren’t the only ones who are taking to drones.
In Minnesota, the Atlas of Surveillance determined 38 different law enforcement departments are using drones — though not in Minneapolis or St. Paul. These drones are equipped with spotlights and speakers, useful for search and rescue, crowd control and much more.
The City of Woodbury’s almost $40k drone has the capability to fly up to 52 mph with a maximum fly time of 55 minutes. Police are realizing drones are indispensable — a much cheaper and faster alternative to using a full size helicopter in most situations.
Cmdr. John Altman of Woodbury, explained there will be no random patrols — drones will be used responsibly and not for spying on ordinary people. Drones must be looking for a specific event or crime when in use. Drones should be used for investigating crimes and crashes, finding missing people, and directing operations for natural disasters, fires and other dangerous situations. Altman also claimed drones are less intrusive than Google street view.
While the advancements in the drone industry are generally pretty great, the biggest concern remains to be privacy. UAVs paired with facial-recognition software are incredibly quick and accurate at identifying people by their faces. Privacy advocates see the capability of identifying faces in a crowd as an intimidation tactic. Whether criminal or not, most don’t want to be photographed by the police.
Although drones can capture photos from above just like helicopters or from ground bodycams, it’s “like comparing a kitchen knife to a chainsaw”. According to a New York Times article, China can photograph and register 500,000 new faces a month using disguised drones. It is not hard to imagine how American police might use the technology similarly. A big challenge in this for everyone, is how to determine a private drone from a police drone.
That’s why the American Civil Liberties Union lobbied for a bill last year to require police to get a warrant before using a drone to look into private property. It also requires cities to have a drone use policy in place before being used. The crime must be imminent or in real-time and pose a public health threat.
Police drone or hobby drone, protecting privacy is the biggest challenge in the expansion of the drone industry. There are no known cases of residents complaining about “drone spies” in Minnesota but with drones becoming faster and easier to use, the potential threat is multiplied and must be discussed.
Overall, drones offer advantages to safety, efficiency and entertainment for all. We must do our best to work together and keep pushing the drone industry to the best it can be.
What are your thoughts on drone regulation?