As of March 2017 there were 770,00 FAA registered drone owners — and that, according to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (a drone industry trade and lobby organization), was up from 670,000 at the start of the year.
News this past week included stories that Texas, Maine and Vermont are all struggling to come to grips with different angles on drone regulation in at what might be the start of an age of drones.
The state of Texas has passed a law criminalizing certain drone uses. The Texas law makes it a crime to operate a drone over “concentrated animal feeding operations,” as well as telecommunication facilities and certain oil and gas facilities. It also bars Texas cities and towns from making their own rules regulating drone usage — a measure that has become controversial in its own right.
Supporters of the law say it will protect against aerial poisoning of livestock or power line sabotage. Opponents say the state is protecting industry, oil, gas, and large farming operations from public scrutiny from the air.
Hmm, would the Texas Legislature pass a law protecting a business from public scrutiny?
In Maine, state police drones are now being dispatched to remotely take images of traffic accidents that are being stitched together with software . That state’s police say it saves time and money by cutting a task that pre-drone might have taken as long 24 hours down to 14 minutes. Maine police purchased 200 drones estimated to cost $5,000.00 each.
While Maine allows remote aerial photographing of crash scenes, drone regulations prohibit their use in criminal investigations without a warrant. Vehicles and people unrelated to the crash must be removed from the police images. The Maine ACLU advocacy director Oamshri Amarasingham questioned how practical it can be for the state police to crop unrelated individuals out of every photo taken at an accident scene. The ACLU says without appropriate protections the new practice could violate the privacy of Maine residents.
And finally Vermont’s drone story involves a man stopped from videoing a high school sporting event from the air. In Vermont, individual high schools are allowed to decide whether or not to permit or ban drones at their sporting events — but the Vermont Principals’ Association says they are banned during the playoffs.
Recently in Montpelier objections were made when […] a licensed Montpelier resident who had asked permission to record a girls soccer game with a drone was asked to stop filming.
“We looked into it and made sure they had a permit or license, and they did,” Montpelier Athletic Director Matt Link said of the person who made the request. “It was OK with the officials before the game, but during the game there was a protest.”
Vermont Principals’ Association Executive Director Bob Johnson mentioned safety concerns over a drone crashing into a crowd. A quick YouTube search shows plenty of compilation videos of crashes. And it isn’t just “pilot” error causing the troubles. A study in the UK of 150 crash incidents by RMIT University School of Engineering found technical problems were the cause of 64 percent of the incidents, which occurred between 2006 and 2016. Naturally insurance companies are setting their sights on risk management and drone liability.
This week it is Vermont, Maine, and Texas hassling through legitimate concerns about expanding drone use by law enforcement and private individuals. There’s plenty more stories like this in sight for all states, cities and towns. And just wait until Amazon unleashes fleets of speedy delivery drones from their airborne fulfillment centers. Time to duck and cover.