The following is a guest article by Liz Greene. Liz hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can dive deeper into the inner workings of her psyche at InstantLo
It’s an undeniable fact that most people fear what they don’t understand — and unfortunately for UAV enthusiasts, drones are not well understood. Since people hate what they fear, public reaction to UAVs has been largely negative. That’s why people are shooting drones out of the sky or building elaborate drone detection systems — their fear has crossed the line into blatant paranoia and the idea that the only reason UAVs exist is for the purpose of spying on them.
There’s this idea floating through the public consciousness that drones are a major privacy concern. It’s so pervasive that it was even addressed in an episode of South Park. While a UAV pilot could certainly fly their aircraft near a neighbor’s bedroom window and take photos, it would make little sense to do so.
Assuming that spying is the ultimate goal — which begs the question why people are so certain others wish to spy on them — a UAV is probably one of the worst ways to go about it. The best spy is one who is neither seen nor heard, and UAVs are both incredibly visible and audible.
To start with, UAVs are large enough to be easily seen while in flight. They’re often equipped with indicator lights which allow the pilot to assess the craft’s flight direction, GPS lock, and battery life. These lights make the drone clearly visible at night. Furthermore, the range on most UAVs is quite limited, and much of the user’s control is via line of sight — meaning the pilot has to see the craft to guide it.
Then there’s the sound — personal UAVs are remarkably loud. They whir, they buzz, they sometimes manage to sound like a small lawnmower engine. In fact, many complaints from the public are in relation to the noise UAVs make. It’s slightly hard to go unnoticed when your “spy craft” sounds like an angry swarm of bees.
Finally, there’s the all important recording equipment. The cameras on most UAVs are equipped with wide or ultra wide angle lenses. These lenses are designed to capture landscapes — and unless a UAV is 10-20 feet from a person, the camera won’t capture much. Moreover, almost no camera equipped UAVs have zoom lenses. The weight would mean decreased flight time and the vibration of the craft would make it nearly impossible to get a clear photo or video with a zoom lens.
While some detractors might point out that cheaper drones certainly wouldn’t come with camera equipment capable of spying, the more expensive ones would. They would be wrong. Even the much lauded DJI Phantom 3 Professional is only equipped with an ultra wide angle lens and no zoom capability. The fact is, spy worthy camera equipment isn’t what UAV pilots are looking for, therefore manufacturers aren’t going to put it on their aircraft — it’s just not practical.
The fact is, a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens would be far better for spying. It’s cheaper, easier to use, and returns far better results.
The Negative Effect
Unfortunately, all this paranoia is the bane of further innovation. Companies who cater to the suspicious masses will be busy devising anti-drone technology and trumping the work of research and development teams devising new uses for UAVs. Imagine how our world might look if the critics of automobiles, airplanes, and computers had gotten their way. Where would our society be now?
The fact is, most drone pilots have absolutely no interest in looking through their neighbors’ windows to see who or what is inside. They’re ordinary people, curious about the world around them. They’re hobbyists who enjoy the challenge of a build and the exhilaration of a successful flight. They’re photographers capturing beautiful landscapes for all to enjoy. They’re scientists, doing important research. They’re emergency service professionals, performing delicate search and rescue missions. They’re farmers, checking the health of their crops.
And really, it’s these human faces that the detractors need to see. In order to prevent paranoia from crippling the future of UAV innovation, we need to show off the good that these fantastic little aircraft are capable of.