Rise of the Drones

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a — commercial unmanned drone?

Drones

Welcome to 2014, where in addition to mammals and commercial airlines, flying robots are claiming their parts of the airways.

By now, most of us have heard of drones in some capacity. Whether its about warfare, hobbyists, delivery systems, or even just a passing mention on your favourite television show, it looks like unmanned drones are here to stay.

Modern Family Episode with an unmanned drone

However, this new technology may be appearing and advancing at too rapid a rate. Laws, governments, corporations and people alike all seem confused about what exactly is allowed, or is illegal with these machines.

Courts all over the world, not just in the west, are debating and setting precedents regarding drones. These debates centre around who can use the drones, when they can use them, and what they can use them for.

History

Drones are a relatively new phenomenon. A dozen years ago there were really only two groups who cared about unmanned drones at all:

  • Hobbyists who flew radio controlled planes for fun
  • The Military, which used them to carry out surveillance missions.

Then everything changed, as it’s wont to do, with a massive terrorist attack. 9/11 led to the American invasions of the Middle East, and drones became major part of their offensive. Unmanned surveillance planes suddenly became armed, and began destroying people and objects from thousands of miles away.

More and more advanced unmanned machines were developed with the newest technologies – from cameras to sensors that can measure airborne chemicals and warfare.

To date, the US has now  made and deployed more than 11000 military drones. In 2002, they had fewer than 200.

The United States isn’t alone. At least 50 other countries control their own collection, and countries like China, Israel and Iran manufacture their own!

And those are just the big companies! We haven’t even touched on the tiny start ups that are now in the drone business.

Drones are no longer just for military use. There are many options out there for civilians to purchase them.

That’s right – you can even build you’re own drone with lego now!

It doesn’t stop there – scientists are now cashing in as well, using drones to gather data on volcanoes in Costa Rica, archaeological sites in Russia and Peru, and flooding over the Pacific Mid-west of the United states.

Customs and border officials are using drones to spot smugglers and illegal immigrants in Canada and the United states, and some drones are even used to take a peek into the hearts of hurricanes.

High Tech Peeping Toms?

Anyone can buy a Drone. I could leave my office, walk down the street to Best Buy or Future Shop and pick one up. No paperwork or registration required.

However, that ease of access is making some uncomfortable situations arise. Namely – what can you watch while flying?

Some drones sporting cameras have been spotting hovering outside condo windows, over backyards, even city streets – the question is, are these peeping tom drones illegal?

It makes me very uncomfortable imagining a drone spying on me from outside of my high rise apartment.

So far this year, the Vancouver Police Department has fielded about a dozen drone complaints. These drones aren’t being flown illegally either.

In the spring, an Ottawa resident complained to his city councillor about a drone buzzing around his neighbourhood.

Commercial use of drones falls under Transport Canada regulations, and requires a Special Flight Operations Certificate.

Transport Canada has issued increasing numbers of these in recent years. That number has grown by over 500%  from 155 in 2011to 945 this year.

The maximum penalty for operating a commercial Drone without a certificate is $5,000 for a person, or $25,000 for a corporation, Transport Canada said.

Most of the rules and regulations regarding Drone use only affect ones that weigh more than 35 Kilograms. Anything that weighs less than that is considered a model aircraft, and doesn’t need permission from the federal department to send their devices into the air.

Another element that makes this situation more complex is the difficulty in figuring out who is flying the drone. The operator may be out of sight, and these machines don’t usually have licence plates or other identifying features.

“Under the current privacy complaint intake process, Canadians must be able to identify the organization they want investigated and must also specify what of their personal information was collected,” says Shayna Gersher, a graduate student at the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Part of the  challenge is to distinguish between planes flown by hobbyists and those used for commercial applications. This has become increasingly difficult, as the technology for model planes has grown more sophisticated.

There have been some gains – in July a man in New York was arrested and charged with unlawful surveillance after he flew a drone outside exam windows at a hospital.

The US is a completely different can of worms, as commercial drone use there is completely illegal.

Laws

Now, this issue isn’t being ignored.

Originally, President Barack Obama signed a law back in 2012 that required the FAA to make American airspace open to drones on September 30 2015, with all the laws in place. However, recently the FAA has said  that “technical and regulatory obstacles” will delay that deadline.

Draganflyer X4

 

Of course, many aren’t happy with the delay. A group including hobbyists, scientists and commercial interest groups filed lawsuits in the US last Friday challenging this September 2015 deadline, asking for the government to relax its drone regulations now.

The three lawsuits asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the validity of the directive. The agency said the directive is an attempt to clarify what is a model aircraft and the limitations on their operation.

Regulations for flights by larger drones are even farther away.

Amazon

Of course, Amazon with its potential Drone package delivery service is weighing in on this issue.

The Economic Times of India claims that Amazon will start testing its delivery drones in India this October!

Want a recap on the Amazon Drone Delivery system? Check out our post HERE.

Amazon had problems in  its initial testing because commercial drone use is currently illegal in the US.

To avoid these domestic constraints, Amazon will start drone trials in India, which doesn’t have any laws about drone usage. The Economic Times pinpointed two Indian cities, Mumbai and Bangalore, where Amazon already has warehouses.

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