The use of aerial drones has become controversial with some hobbyists flying them near airports and at least one crash-landing his remote-controlled one on the White House lawn. While some fault the hobbyists for negative press, others fault the federal government for not creating laws to deal with drones and the lack of commercial drone use.
Eric Cheng, director of aerial imaging for drone-maker DJI, said that commercial use of drones is still an unknown in the United states because of the lack of regulations. "Most countries . . . have already figured out how to use these commercially and are allowing people to use them commercially, so what we’re doing here in the U.S. is trying to catch up,” he said on Press:Here. "It’s become very clear how useful these tools can be.”
However, it still looks like it may be a few years before those regulations for commercial drones will be available. Until then, most drone users rely on drone guidelines that have been established by the Federal Aviation Administration. One of the first guidelines is to fly no higher than 400 feet and away from people.
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Cheng said DJI’s drones are all programmed with a 400-foot ceiling so users would have to follow the FAA’s guidelines.
"That’s got to be easy to hack, though,” VentureBeat’s Dylan Tweney said.
"It is totally easy to hack,” Cheng said. "And the reason we allow it is because it’s not illegal to fly above 400 feet. So we don’t want to prevent people from flying above 400 feet necessarily, we want to encourage them in a very strong way not to."
Scott McGrew suggested that drones, which usually have a small camera attached, are also viewed with some suspicion, much like the first camera phones were when they launched.
"It’s a flying camera and it has the potential to be more invasive,” Michal Lev-Ram of Fortune said.
"But it’s capturing much less data (than a smartphone),” Cheng said. "But for some reason people are much more concerned about a picture coming out of something unexpected.”
Amid the distrust of flying drones, Tweney wanted to know about the effect of the drone backlash. "I think it was Rand Paul who said recently that if somebody tried to fly a drone over his air space that he would get out his shotgun and he would shoot it out of the air,” he said.
Cheng said there have been instances of drone shooting and destruction, but that if drones become classified as aircraft, shooting one out of the sky would have federal consequences.
While commercial drone use is still under consideration by federal regulators, most drone use in the United States will be recreational. But what does recreational drone use mean?
"What can you do with it as a hobbyist once you’ve taken a picture of your house from the air?” McGrew asked Cheng.
"Think of it as unlocking the third dimension for a camera,” Cheng said. "People want to feel creative all the time and are looking for new ways to document something. A drone’s a very good way to do that.”