I may have just witnessed the future of personal drones...not sure if I like it

I've never owned a quadcopter, but have often thought of getting one. I work in the remote robotics industry and have been a fan of quadcopters, FPV and personal "drones" for years. That may change, though, if what I experienced yesterday is what we can expect in the future.

My wife and I were at the beach most of the day yesterday. There were probably a hundred other people in our small area, mostly families with kids. People had their awnings set up, bar-b-ques grilling, and kids running around just having fun. About mid afternoon a fellow showed up with a DJI Phantom (I recognized it because I often thought of buying one) and full FPV gear, not 10 feet from where my wife and I were, and not more than 30 feet from all the kids running around. He then launched and flew the drone up and down the beach, sometimes hovering over people, sometimes flying over boats and paddleboards that were passing by.

While I was in the water, his drone buzzed over my head, hovering maybe 5 feet away from me and stayed there. Just out of reach but definitely "studying me" like a buzzing giant mosquito. It was my first experience like this and I gotta tell you, it was creepy.   I don't know this guy. I don't know his flying skills. I don't know how well he maintains his equipment. I don't know if he's shooting video of me and, if he is, what he plans on doing with that video.  Is he a convict?  Is he a child molester?  I know nothing about this guy who is flying his quad just feet above me and is watching me so intently.  The one thing I did know was that this guy's drone was invading my space and my privacy.  He was watching (and probably videoing me) and I didn't like it. And I'm a guy, I can only imagine how I would have felt if I were a woman. Or a parent watching this drone hover over my small child.  In that brief moment my feelings about personal drones reversed 180 degrees.

If what I just witnessed is the future of the technology, where people no can no longer live with any degree of privacy or space, I, for one, can no longer support it.

Views: 4415

Comment by Daniel Lukonis on July 21, 2014 at 9:15am

Not everything is as it seems...

What if I told you this guy was hired by the city to augment lifeguards?

What if I told you he was a 5 time lifeguard of the year winner who saved 45 lives?

What if I told you is he is doing this incognito due to the regulatory ambiguity in the FAA?

Setup on the beach in plane view - helps put people at ease and provides an outlet if they have concerns

Flying past the paddleboards - there was a pair of sharks swimming under them, he chased them away coincidentally in the direction of nearby boats

Hovering over your head - you looked to be in danger and he went to investigate

Comment by Jesse on July 21, 2014 at 9:41am

Flying in close proximity to people is NEVER an acceptable practice, even for "lifeguards" unless it was an active rescue or something. I ran into this exact situation last Easter. There was a guy, with a Phontom, flying over the massive crowds of kids and parents at our local Easter egg hunt. It was unerring. As you said, I had no idea what his skills were, grade of equipment, etc. Even so, you can never rule out a failure of some kind. People are simply being reckless with these things. Those that do understand the dangers and safety concerns are not the topic here. It's everyone else.

Comment by Sam Spade on July 21, 2014 at 9:46am

You didn't mention how angry the dirt bikers made you.  You know, the ones that blasted down the edge of the surf line, throwing sand in everyone's face.  Didn't they bother you?

Oh, they didn't because they weren't there?  Why not?  They love to blast all over the place.  Was it, perhaps, because there are local ordinances against them riding on the beach?  Well, then it seems the solution to your problem is obvious.  Ask your city council to pass a regulation saying that RC aircraft may not fly lower than 50 feet above the beach.

The issue of model aircraft use is local on and therefore may require local, not national, regulations. 

Don't want to see nude bathing at your local beach?  The problem has already been taken care of.  Why not just follow that lead?

Comment by bigkahuna on July 21, 2014 at 9:49am

@Daniel - Except none of your "what if's" are even remotely close to being true.  There are no such "lifesaving" drones in this state and probably none in existence in this entire country.  He was just some creepy guy who drove up alone in his truck, set up his FPV drone in the middle of a group of families enjoying a day at the beach, and then he flew his drone within feet of many of us for reasons unknown to any of us.

I knew I was going to get some flack for this post, but I thought it was worth posting.  This event really opened my eyes to the potential harm a personal (or even government sanctioned) drone can do.  I'm still in favor of using drones for certain missions, SAR is one that comes to mind.  But the potential exists for less than ethical people to use them for less than ethical reasons.  My hope is that some of the community would benefit from my story.

Comment by Jonathan Hair on July 21, 2014 at 10:01am

I don't know if he's shooting video of me and, if he is, what he plans on doing with that video.  Is he a convict?  Is he a child molester?

To get this straight, you know NOTHING about this guy, but still think it appropriate to speculate publicly he has the potential to be a child molester or convict? Because his camera is on a toy helicopter? Get a grip.

I bet every person at that beach had a high definition camera. The quadcopter is far more conspicuous way to film than a phone. Why then are you singling him out? What would a child molestor do with a DJI Phantom that you are so scared of anyway?

I don't condone flying over or near others, and if true this guy is wrong to do that, but your other statements are completely inappropriate and idiotic.

Comment by Pedals2Paddles on July 21, 2014 at 10:03am

Other than a touch of sarcasm, it is unlikely most people here will disagree with you. Buzzing over the general public's head with a 4 spinning knives is never ok.  Hovering a camera at close range over the general public, while not illegal, is indeed creepy.  And none of that is encouraged on here.  The guy was stupid.

Comment by bigkahuna on July 21, 2014 at 10:06am

@Bob - I get your point, but I don't think you got mine.  I've spent some time with RC pilots and it was my impression that they do a pretty darn good job of self regulating themselves.  Having never run into a situation like this before I, perhaps naively, thought that self regulation was enough for personal drone pilots.  But apparently I was wrong.  The risk of legislation and regulation is that maybe the laws they pass won't be what you hope for.  What if they banned personal drones, not just from below 50 feet or not just from that one park, but from the entire county?  Or the entire state?  How happy would you be if that were to happen?

Comment by Jonathan Hair on July 21, 2014 at 10:10am

I am so sick of the 'creepy' label.

It is creepy only to those that don't understand it. A birds eye view from a toy helicopter at the beach is the worst way to get the type of photos that people like the OP seem so scared of (in a wide open public place no less).

Comment by nickthecook on July 21, 2014 at 10:10am

Of course, flying a few feet from people is never acceptable, but it's interesting to experience what a drone can do to your psyche, even if it's at a safe distance. It is creepy, even if the guy was most likely just having fun with his drone in a way that annoyed others.

The fact that thoughts of convicts and child molesters crossed your mind is a warning to us that these things we fly can send people's thoughts to dark places. Reminds me of the video of that woman attacking a guy on the beach for flying his drone. We need to be extra cautious with these, because people are hyper-sensitive to their presence, right or wrong.

Comment by Gary McCray on July 21, 2014 at 10:23am

Hi bigkahuna,

I completely agree with you that this sort of activity is completely unaccepatable.

Generally it comes from the fact that the people doing it:

A. Generally have no idea at all what is reasonable and what is not.

B. At no point in their purchase to pilot time-line did they ever encounter anything at all that would give them the slightest idea of what they "ought" to be doing and not doing.

C. They figure it is just a toy so what can be the harm.

D. Of course there are also probably a few real idiots who would do it anyway even if they knew.

We need the law to handle that last batch.

But the rest of them can be "helped" by some guidance and simply appealing to their common sense.

In fact it is only recently that reasonable dos and don'ts have started to become clear in this hobby, but we have a pretty good set now and if people don't follow them, there is going to eventually be serious trouble.

Basically we need to Not:

A. Provide any real (or perceived) physical threat to the safety of people.

B. Invade their personal space in any way that is likely to make them feel uncomfortable.

Pretty simple actually and it really doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out.

It would also help if we could act as "drone" ambassadors by actually talking with or providing information about the "responsible" pursuit of our hobby.

To that end I have produced 3 separate pages on my Drones Are Fun Web Site:

1. Basic Quadcopter safety is a printable basic page of what to do and what not to do when flying a quadcopter.


There is a separate version for each of my sites: Quadcopters, Drones and Multicopters Are Fun.

And it is written as a single page of HTML with inline CSS so it can be simply HTML copied into any website as a linkable page.

2. A more advanced quadcopter safety page that expands on the first one in greater detail, definitely worth a read:


And Finally:

3. A printable page on my Drones Are Fun Site that you can take with you to hand out to people who are interested or concerned that provides a simple explanation of our hobby and illustrates how you are working very hard to behave responsibly in relation to the public.


For the most part if we could simply get this information in front of the naive people entering this hobby it would go a long way to turning things in our favor.

And frankly if we are one of those people and we witness irresponsible behavior, it is our clear duty to inform the offender of their breach of the public trust and maybe refer to the to DIYDrones or my Drones Are Fun web sites so they can find out what is really expected of them.

If we don't police this a bit ourselves, we soon won't have a hobby to police.

Best Regards,

Gary - - Drones Are Fun Web Site - - http://dronesarefun.com/index.html


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