This year, drones were a popular Christmas present. The BBC helpfully ran articles highlighting the rules for owning and flying one safely and responsibly, as well as a video review of the top selling models just in case potential buyers or new owners needed easy access to the latest information.
There really is no escaping them these days. Drones have been in the news pretty regularly lately. In the right hands they can provide amazing footage of sports events, parties, wildlife and situations where it is dangerous for humans to go. In the wrong hands, they are seen as a menace to privacy, national security and safety.
So, let’s examine the cases for and against.
This article will concentrate on the positive aspects of drones. The next will showcase how drones should not be flown, or the things that they are capable of which authorities didn’t guess.
In the positive corner, drones are good at…
Drones are useful at outdoor sports events as they can provide close up footage of the action. Smaller than helicopters or blimps, they can hover inside stadiums or fly alongside athletes, keeping pace with them. Fox Sports is planning on using drones at many of the events where it provides coverage, including golf, motorsports, NFL and MLB. Permission for use comes from the sports organisation, the venue and the local law enforcement, as rules differ across US states and UK jurisdictions. These rules include restrictions on flying zones and the types of drone model used for commercial footage.
For shepherds trying to find lost sheep, or cowboys rounding up cattle, drones can make sure all the flock or herd is accounted for. Naturalists believe they are useful in providing close up footage of wild animals without disturbing or spooking them. In 2014, the BBC ran an article on wildlife film makers’ tricks of the trade, which mentions that drones have the ability to provide shake-free footage. This contrasts with earlier footage which was often taken by a cameraman running with a camera held on their shoulder.
Drone cameras can also be used in octocopters – eight bladed flying machines – to obtain what the article terms ‘smooth, swooping shots’ of animals in many different scenarios. A drone can circumvent rules on human interaction with wild animals, and obtain shots of wild animals behaving naturally without disturbing them.
Meanwhile, Amazon has claimed its first successful delivery of a parcel by drone and outdoor parties and festivals are making more use of them to obtain overhead footage.
In dangerous conditions and extreme situations, a drone can provide the proverbial bird’s eye view without danger to its human operator. There is drone footage around of a demolition company blowing down a building, and all the drones filming the event are flying well inside the exclusion zone for human safety. The fire service also used drones to check the aftermath of the fire which engulfed the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter to safeguard firefighters from the risk of falling debris.
Drones in war zones
Obviously, in a dangerous active conflict area, drones are safer than sending in “boots on the ground” – actual troops. From WWII onward, remote destruction has been employed against enemies. Drones are not only used for war. They can also be deployed to bring supplies and other humanitarian aid to those in a warzone.
Drones may be relatively new to many people, but they are already being put to good use in a variety of ways. But as with every new technology, there is always a dark side. The use of drones in war is not all good, as the next article will show.
- Drone flying rules to be followed in the UK – BBC.co.uk, no author stated, 25 December 2016, bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-38404554
- Drone challenge: 2016’s top models get put to the test – BBC.co.uk, Rory Cellan-Jones, 23 December 2016, bbc.co.uk/news/technology-38389864
- Eye in the sky: Fox Sports is bringing drones to sporting events – Digiday UK, Sahil Patel, June 3, 2016, digiday.com/publishers/eye-sky-fox-sports-bringing-drones-sporting-events/
- Wildlife film-makers reveal tricks of the trade – BBC.co.uk, Ian Youngs, Arts reporter, 24 July 2014, bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-28405412
- Drones Over Dolphin Stampede and Whales off Dana Point and Maui – YouTube, Captain Dave Anderson, 25 February 2014, youtube.com/watch?v=Bo_f8mV5khg
- Amazon claims first successful Prime Air drone delivery – The Guardian UK, Alex Hern, Wednesday 14 December 2016, theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/14/amazon-claims-first-successful-prime-air-drone-delivery
- Exeter fire: Drone footage shows smouldering hotel – BBC.co.uk, no author stated, 29 October 2016, bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37811958
- Military Drones Flood War Skies Over Syria, Iraq – VOANews.com, Sirwan Kajjo and Mehdi Jedinia, May 15, 2016, voanews.com/a/military-drones-flood-war-skies-over-syria-and-iraq/3330150.html
- Getting aid to a war zone in a swarm of drones – BBC.co.uk, Catrin Nye BBC News, Sacramento, 25 April 2015, bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-32452678