Drones: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by Jonathan Grossman ; Updated October 17, 2017

It’s a beautiful sunny day at Alla Park in Los Angeles. Perfect weather for the tennis match I’m about to start. I toss the ball for my first serve when suddenly all the dogs go wild. Arrg! I’m miffed by the interruption of my concentration. But soon I notice the dogs are reacting to a loud buzzing sound in the sky. It’s not a bird. It’s not a plane. It’s… a drone. What the heck?

annoying drone noise

Drones are the latest craze for fans of remote controlled flying objects. They are also the subject of debate for those who fear their privacy and safety will be compromised.

Some of us hear the word “drone,” and think of Aunt Bertha’s long-winded stories which go on and on. Or maybe you’re a bee fanatic and know drones are male bees whose sole purpose it to mate with the queen. Others who meditate will think of the calm buzzing of the sitar instrument in Indian music. Actually if you combine them all to create a non-stop, flying, buzzing thing you get close to the 21st century drone I’m talking about here.

Drones are remote-controlled, unmanned aircraft. To be clear, the military uses larger high-tech drones in combat. However, the sort of drone we are discussing is the hobbyist version. Smaller, cheaper and safer (kinda). Controversial, yes, but no one can deny it’s a remarkable bit of technology.

Averaging just 12 inches or so and weighing in at 4 pounds or less (often much less), these nimble and easy-to-fly gadgets can sail into the air up to 5,000 feet at speeds of up to 35 to 40 mph. Remote controlled airplanes have been around for years, but these new drones are superheroes compared to planes of the past. Think of them as a cross between a helicopter and a flying saucer. Unlike planes, they can move in any direction, change direction quickly and, most importantly, hover in mid-air. Just like all new technology, the good comes with the bad. And in this case, the bad is actually ugly.

Drones have tons of great recreational uses. Amateur filmmakers can attach small cameras to the drones and obtain aerial footage usually reserved for big budget films. Same goes for amateur photographers. Do-it-yourself homeowners who are missing a shingle on the roof can forget about the ladder and send the drone up there to take a look! Even if you don’t want to take pictures from the air, drones can be just a lot of fun to fly.

good use of drones

The future holds even better uses: What if you forgot your wallet at home? Have your spouse send it to you via a drone! What about expedited shipping? Amazon claims to be developing drone technology that can quickly and cheaply delivery packages to your doorstep. Imagine ordering new shoes on Amazon and 30 minutes later a drone delivers the package to your front door! Cool, right? I think so, too. But once the drone use goes from the hobbyist to business, the laws get very strict. The Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that regulates air traffic, has many laws regarding drones. Here are a few:

  1. You can’t fly higher than 400 feet.
  2. You can’t fly within a few miles of an airport.
  3. You can’t fly drones for commercial gain.

These laws help explain why Amazon is having trouble getting their drone delivery project off the ground (couldn’t resist!).

Commercial use aside, many folks object to even the recreational use of drones. The two biggest concerns are safety and privacy. Since they’re unmanned, you can lose control of the drone and crash into birds, trees, buildings or even people. Drones can move fast and have sharp propellers, so a crash could be bad. Even worse is the possibility of someone attaching explosives or firearms. Now that’s where drones go from bad to ugly.

What about the idea of privacy? Drones carry cameras. Cameras take videos and photos. Who wants a drone hovering over your home taking video of you sunbathing in the back yard? Most people would agree that’s an invasion of privacy.

cool, not cool drones

Drones are amazing gadgets simmering in controversy. Sure, I’d love to get new tennis shoes in time for my match which starts in an hour. But frankly, I don’t want a drone flying over my head at the court when I’m about to serve. Or worse, taking video of my awful tennis serve and posting it on YouTube!

Image credit: Jonathan Grossman