Drones threaten RC model flying

Bruce from RC Model Reviews has some very interesting points on this topic and he mentions something about him developing something for FPV models to detect full scale aircraft.

If you fly any type of RC model airplane then you ought to be concerned that various politicians around the world are seeking to have "drones" banned. These people aren't talking about the Predator or Reaper drones we see unleashing hellfire missiles at "insurgents", they want to remove your right to fly any RC model with a camera -- or even any model capable of carrying a camera.

We (the RC and especially the FPV community) need to stand up and be heard now, before it's too late.

I'd love to hear from viewers as to how they think the RC community should respond to this threat to the hobby. Is it time to form a global FPV body which can bring the strength of numbers to weigh when challenging this threat?

And please... don't call any FPV model a "drone" -- it's an RC model (whether it has a camera or not).

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  • Matthew -- yes, that's exactly what I was getting at. There are those in this community who advocate embracing the 'drone' moniker and to simply go with the media tide. By and large, these are people who are heavily invested in the word 'drone' for fairly self-serving reasons. I think this is a big mistake, and the bigger industry guys do as well. 'Drone' doesn't mean UAV, 'drone' means a scary Terminator 3-esque flying robot that impinges on civil liberties and kills people. That will -never- change, because those sorts of devices will -always- be doing that. I also don't think privacy and fear of government are things that go away. People will get acclimated to the technology, but those reservations will never go away... and they really shouldn't.

    There is an encouraging side to the recent wave of legislative activity. One thing you generally see in the conversations surrounding the recent grassroots pushes to ban drones over particular municipalities is that often lawmakers are cognizant of the beneficial possibilities to the technology, and they make the effort to say that they don't want to see it obliterated for good uses. There are a handful of more fanatical efforts (Oregon, Texas) that want the privacy implications to override all use, but I don't think that'll happen. It's also questionable whether they have jurisdiction to even be able to do what they want to do, since the FAA regulates all airspace.

    Another encouraging thing is that AUVSI is actually pretty damn effective. The AMA -- nominally the representative body of hobbyists -- has retreated to R/C and is abandoning the evolution of R/C craft into semi-autonomous uses; this is sort of understandable given the relative limitations of their influence, and given the shakeup in their cozy little corner of the world. AUVSI on the other hand has lobbied the FAA hard--and the FAA has generally taken all of their recommendations and incorporated them into their (tentative) proposals. This cuts another way though: the constituents of AUVSI aren't really in the game to look out for the smaller guys. An important effort needs to be made to integrate the broader industry players there with the would-be industry players here.

    I think ultimately what's needed is three-fold:

    First of all, broader UAVs must have as little in common in function and FORM with 'drones' as possible. They must look NOTHING like the Predator, something that really does appear entirely inspired by the Terminator franchise. Just as you say, the social-good and commercial-good applications have to be pushed and highlighted universally and to an extreme degree. Realistically though, these also have to be developed, because they are not commonplace today. In most cases, these efforts can't be contract services because of the legislative constraints, but rather the sale of easy-to-use HW to social-good groups that then employ them. Videos need to be produced, industry entities with a stake in the success of the technology have to help promote these endeavors. Hobbyists have their role to play here because there are so many of them that are exposed to such potential applications. Given money and organization, they can even push them in credible ways that e.g. Raytheon or General Atomics never could/would.

    The second thing that needs to happen is that devices need to be sold that have mass-market appeal that DON'T use the word 'drone', but rather the alternative nomenclature. This is trickier because hype generates mass-market interest, and that translates directly to the bottom line. The logic here is to expand the base of stakeholders. Right now, very few people have an interest at all beyond privacy concerns. With more stakeholders, more voices will join a supportive chorus. By the way -- a *key* demographic here is the one of primary interest to you, journalists. The media forces are underneath all of these issues, and as you are aware, UAVs will become a standard tool in the toolkit for photojournalists and local/cable news outlets all over the world. When that happens, the narrative being broadcast by them will start to shift. This will be a huge thing.

    The third thing is that privacy concerns need to be taken seriously. And by that I mean, irresponsible and brazen activity on the part of the hobbyist community needs to be curtailed. This is a thorny issue, because it will impinge upon some of the more "fun" aspects of the hobby for the wave of newcomers of the last 2-3 years -- wild FPV, long-distance flights, stupid fly-throughs of downtown metropolitan areas or blatant surveillance activities of private property. Unfortunately (or fortunately), these activities need to be moved away from densely-populated public spaces or just thrown out entirely. I tend to see a future where rural regions are more tolerant of the fun stuff, and it becomes a 'thing' to drive out somewhere and do some amazing stuff. This is kinda speculative, but we need to figure out the 'space' for these activities because people are loathe to give it up but the public is even more loathe to entertain them. But the right 'space' is not downtown Manhattan or the Statue of Liberty, as Team Blacksheep did before packing up their stuff and quickly leaving the country (a sign of personal responsibility if there ever was one). I also think hobbyist devices and even commercial devices probably need some sort of 'compliance module' to assure people that privacy is forefront and misuse is guarded against and constitutes a violation of the community--both UAV and public--as well as a violation of the law. Then you have a tool, one that can be misused but is policed, and one that is versatile and that integrates with society in a conscientious way. There are many precedents for this sort of model.

    In all cases, coordinated action is required. The question now is how to organize such action. Your Nemo prize is a great example of coordinated activity, but I think we should all try to drive it a step further. You are starting to see this refrain from a lot of people in this community now, particularly as the AMA has washed their hands of these issues and circled the wagons to protect their corner of the world.


    RE: the actual nomenclature, I actually do see UAV being capable of gaining traction, not least of all because the industry majors are pushing it and as stakeholders grow, they will implicitly take those groups seriously. The public is used to acronyms like 'LCD', even if very few actually understand what a liquid-crystal-display is. The technical origin of the term is irrelevant in this case and I think it could be here as well, especially as "unmanned aerial vehicle" is pretty self-explanatory. I like 'aerobot', but these devices aren't really aerial robots (yet) -- they're mobile sensing platforms. We'll get there, but we're a good 5-10 years out. At that point I think you end up with another distinction in the nomenclature.

    Anyway, just my thoughts on this stuff. And to reassure that I'm not just an armchair general -- I am working on projects with several big institutional groups that are attempting to do all of these things. Hopefully those projects work out :)

  • Matthew, I've proposed "Aerial Robotics" as a good term.  It's not a faceless acronym.  Or worse, a backronym...  It's just a simple descriptor.  People instantly understand what it means, and it's reasonably friendly.

    UAV, UAS, sUAS, are all professional, technical terms, but it's not something that common people are going to latch onto.  

  • Brent,

    Apology accepted. It's OK - it's a proper subject to get heated up about. I have a lot invested in this field as well (STEM education, journalism/media research, and some commercial work), so I understand. I actually have a master's in journalism and a bachelor's in communications. I practice it for a living, so I am not unfamiliar with the field.

    I'm aware of the drone-as-pejorative in the military and aerospace industry. I've never personally been to an AUVSI conference, but I've spoken to people who've been to the conference and used the drone word when talking to people. The response was not positive.

    Having said that, I'm starting to understand what you're getting at. Please do correct me if I'm mistaken, but part of your point is if the MIC can't change the term, hobbyists and small business don't stand a chance. We'll all be painted with the same broad brush. And you say we need to rally behind language that makes a distinction between what hobbyists or small businesses build and what the military uses.

    That makes sense to me. They're worlds apart. Hobbyists and commercial users shouldn't have to all be shoved under the same tent because of an overly-broad definition.

    What are you proposing we name them? RC aircraft, model aircraft, FPV aircraft, all make a strong distinctions. From the video on this blog post, it appears they already have traction. That's good. At least hobbyists have the AMA to fall back on.

    But for small commercial use - I still don't think UAV or UAS will ever make it into common language. Aerial robots, perhaps? I think it might have a chance.

    I have some assets that I would have to re-brand, as would a lot of people. But if it's a choice between re-branding and not being able to operate at all, I'd choose re-branding. It's just, what could you even name the thing that could compete with "drone"? It's hard to make a three-word description good enough to bury a five-letter pejorative.

  • Hey Matthew -- I want to sincerely apologize. My post was too harsh and I didn't mean to malign you or the good ideas you've had and will continue to have. I just feel passionately about this field, and I want to see people taking actions that I think help it instead of hurt it.

    There are no clear-cut answers here, and what the future holds is anyone's guess. You can see in just the activity of the last few weeks that major changes (e.g., banning) to this field can spread like wildfire. But, I think the right thing to do is get rid of a negative word. I don't think anyone can own it, and I don't think anyone who was not short-term vested in this field would want to. I don't buy into the analogies to computers, jets, or anything else -- I can find just as many analogies working the other way. What is unique in this case is the incredible public fear and loathing which I think is unprecedented. There really is no other story in the media today that is so persistently told than "Rise of the Drones" and it presents special challenges.

  • I'll repeat my point from a thread about this a few days ago.

    Matthew, if you, me, Brent, and how many others of us that have IMMERSED ourselves in UAV technology in culture, didn't realize that that was a research UAV from NASA rather than a Predator drone, what hope does the common citizen have of figuring it out?

    Not gonna happen!

    And the argument that "No no, that's not a Predator, see, it's got an extra pod on the bottom...."  Nobody cares!

    If you wanted to use a NASA UAV that would not be confused with an illegal weapon system, why not use the Helios?  


    Well, it's completely unidentifiable by the average person. Just a big slab of flying wing.  

    So what's more important?  Being identifiable (marketing), or trying to re-brand the poor maligned Ikhana? 

  • Matthew, you are absolutely correct -- the decision-making on this point is about branding and PR. And you are absolutely incorrect about what your proposal is to effect these ends.

    Firstly, I think you've misunderstood my point, or at least have misconstrued it to be a pedantic one about definitions. I don't need to be condescended to about reading the definition of 'drone'; I am saying, in a best-case scenario you want to fight for "ownership" over a word that at its base is unflattering and negative. Here's Communications101 for you: when presented with a PR challenge with negative language, you change the terms of the conversation--especially when you're not remotely in a position to "own" it.

    And by that, you need to be reminded of a challenging reality: all of this is entirely out of the hands of hobbyists or a not-yet-born sUAS commercial industry. Entirely. Today, the whole hobbyist market for R/C craft is something like $1.5B/annum--which sounds impressive, until you realize that's dispersed worldwide and constitutes a modest fraction of what a single military-industrial giant (among a dozen+) headquartered in Fairfax, VA makes in a single quarter pumping out military UASs to kill people. I would wager that the total gross revenue of the largest R/C manufacturer on the planet is itself dwarfed by the quarterly lobbying contributions from these same groups -- let alone the Vice Admirals, ex-Senators and Three-Star Generals who have senior positions in these organizations because they want to trade their influence for a cash-out at the end of their careers. AND EVEN WITH ALL THE INFLUENCE IN THE WORLD, THESE ENTITIES--INCLUDING THE U.S. MILITARY AND THE INDUSTRY TRADE GROUP ITSELF--DO NOT CALL THEM "DRONES"!! (exclamation mark)

    In other words, you need to ratchet down the go-it-alone ambitions here.

    Secondly, by my estimation there are only four groups outside the general public that actually DO call them 'drones':

    1. Media entities generating sensationalism to sell advertising.
    2. People who are capitalizing on media sensationalism and attempting to sell products -- e.g., Parrot/AR.Drone, Chris Anderson/DIYDrone, etc.
    3. People who are capitalizing on media sensationalism and seeking influence, e.g. privacy advocates, would-be public intellectuals, etc.
    4. People who are capitalizing on media sensationalism and looking for a cheap infusion of ego by linking their R/C hobby to a worldwide technological development.

    That's it. Those are the only people repeating to the public the words they want to hear -- people who are attempting to profit off of sensationalism. Many longtime leaders of the R/C community who are not personally invested in making money off of sensationalism are stepping up now to urge people NOT to do what you're proposing.

    Thirdly, you may have started the prestigious Nemo Prize for Drone Excellence with a post on a forum, but what you have discovered by the total lack of submissions is that the regulatory environment and social atmosphere have outpaced the deployment of civilian devices, effective civilian sUAS technology and stable sUAS companies. You may *want* to do all of these nice things -- but with what money? Under what laws? With what infrastructure?

    We in the UAV field in the US are in a unique position where the FAA has hamstrung development and this has given time for unfriendly forces to materialize and gain influence by tapping into visceral fears that long-predate the birth of viable UAVs. Usually, such privacy concerns are dealt with by totally ignoring them, with only a few insiders privy to their developing violations until it becomes public and it's a fait accompli and there's nothing anyone can do to roll back the clock. (See: warrantless wiretapping, domestic electronic spying by NSA, or last week's revelations about the murder of a US citizen by 'drone' some time ago). But, uniquely, that is not the case here. The public is worried and anxious, and the privacy advocates and even unfriendly politicos smell blood. And they're right. We don't have 50 years for a nuanced understanding to develop that's supportive of our interests -- we have 2 years. And what happens in the US will affect what happens in the Eurozone, and waves of influence will spread from there.


    This is *my* pitch: while every relevant industry segment isn't calling them 'drones', the public isn't going to stop calling them 'drones'. But what they call 'drones' today is not what any of us are particularly interested in. The distinction exists to be made, wants to be made; and instead of relying on an expectation of some deeper nuanced understanding of the word 'drone', the nomenclature should reflect the distinction. When the moment hits that productive uses of UAVs become present and commonplace, let 'drone' apply to what people already apply it to and what they're afraid of -- government and law enforcement -- and create a separate category to refer to a separate sphere of human endeavor. As for me, I'm fine with both law enforcement and government being heavily restricted in their domestic usage, so this doesn't trouble me in the least.

    ...By the way -- on the subject of nuance vs. rebranding -- you should look at this thread from two weeks ago with the exact same discussion which we'll all repeat over and over as the regulatory environment becomes increasingly hostile. I made the same mistake as you -- calling the background image the Predator. Mr. Anderson corrected me that this is not the case, that it's a research UAV with the superficial appearance of a Predator. But you know what? You and I both *thought* it was a Predator (and there's no way that this site's designers weren't cognizant of this fact). There's your argument for nuanced understanding over superficial appearances. It didn't work for you and I, did it?

  • @Dwgsparky

    DIYdrones purpose is to fly high & make a killing. The name fits it's mission perfectly.

  • Brent, I have to disagree strongly with your assessment on "owning" the word "drone." It might sound like one of those meaningless buzz words that professional speakers and PR folk like to toss around. But what we are having in this community is a PR crisis, not a crisis of definition. It needs a PR solution.

    By "own," I mean that we must use and embrace the word "drone" to where its thought of in the positive sense. It's going to be our responsibility to change the perception of this word, and ours alone, because our hobbies and commercial livelihoods are going to rely on it.

    People are not going to stop using the word "drone." It's just not going to happen. And everyone needs to look in the dictionary and tell me why it's a bad thing to call it a "drone." Because it's not. Read the definition.

    Instead of fighting this, everyone needs to pitch in to this PR battle and prove the benefits of this technology. STEAM education. Search and rescue. Commercial mapping. Disaster relief. Emergency courier services. Wildlife management. A dozen things we haven't even thought of yet. And of course, a hell of a fun time.

    I started the Nemo Prize to make that point. We need more efforts like it. We need to organize. We need to lobby government officials. We need to do all of those things. We need to do them right now.

    I only half-agree with Gary McCray on this. I don't think the biggest mistake was calling the community "DIY Drones." It was using the Predator drone as a logo. Our first step should be disassociating ourselves from those kinds of drones.

    UPDATED X5 I'll give you $380 if you make your drone useful during winter storm Nemo.
    Above is a picture of a quadrotor drone, an airframe from a fixed-wing drone, and $60 $120 $220 $280 $340 $360 $380 cash. The money...
  • In the Washington DC area we have a newly formed group that would probably back you up %100. We are next to the lawmakers so hopefully we can make a strong impact in the rights to use RC Models. The only issue is the word drone is in the name of the group. I agree with you that we should stop using that name to dissociate with military weaponized UAVs.

  • Moderator
    Its not the physical object that determines the name of the flying beast it is the use it is put to.

    I made the same comment earlier in this discussion. I fly rc models with APM, camera and video, it's not a drone, drones spy and kill
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