The drones are coming
Stories about quadcopters, drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are in the news nearly every day. While the horrors of war, invasions of privacy, daring wilderness rescues and Amazon.com package deliveries make the most sensational headlines, the game-changing role of unmanned aircraft for individuals and small businesses may be the most exciting prospect for the rest of us. The Federal Aviation Administration attempted to ban the use of unmanned aircraft for commercial use until it could formulate rules for their integration into the National Airspace System, but a recent Federal court decision has reversed that restriction, leaving the door open for even more innovation in this nascent industry.
Chinese manufacturer Shenzhen Da-Jiang Innovations Science and Technology Co., Ltd., more commonly known as DJI, is manufacturing small quadcopter UAVs for the U.S. market. Models range in features and are priced from around $500-$1300 as of June 2014. On this page you will find a video from my first forays into UAV photography as well as a photo gallery of high-resolution stills taken from the DJI Phantom 2 Vision.
With a mandate from the U.S. Congress to the FAA for the creation of formal rules to integrate UAVs into the skies by 2015, much remains to be determined. Presently, private drone pilots are advised to follow a 1981 FAA advisory to keep model aircraft below 400 feet above ground level to avoid tangling with air traffic control and manned aircraft, however new rules could allow for higher altitude flight but perhaps with some additional safety requirements or certifications.
The difference between this new generation of UAVs and traditional model aircraft are that UAVs have tremendous maneuverability and stability and can fly autonomously. This one will return to its takeoff site and land without operator input. The possibilities with these GPS and microcontroller managed vehicles are held in potential for increased autonomous operation. This could be the beginning of the delivery on the promises of personal robotics. So far, much media coverage around UAVs has been focused on what they are doing today, but the real possibilities are in what they will do tomorrow!
If you pick up a DJI Phantom or decide to build your own quadcoperter, consider safe flight practices try to be a good neighbor!