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: 4404

Comment by bigkahuna on July 21, 2014 at 10:26am

@Jonathan - I've not mentioned any names, nor even the name of the beach or state that this occurred in.  I'm "speculating" because I was creeped out and could only imagine how someone else, who knew nothing of personal drones, quads, FPV, etc. might react.  I don't see anything inappropriate about anything I posted.

One post that I saw here on DIYDRONES some weeks back was this woman who attacked a guy who was flying his quad on the beach.  The guy later proved that his quad never came any closer than a hundred feet from anyone on the ground.  He launched his quad far away from anyone else at the beach.  Her reaction to what he was doing, we all agreed, was excessive and unwarranted.

That is not what happened yesterday.  This guy launched his quad 10 feet from my wife and I.  This guy was clearly intent on "peeking" in on people and getting as close as he possibly could.  He frequently hovered his quad within feet of people, none of whom seemed to know this guy.

Comment by Jonathan Hair on July 21, 2014 at 10:37am

Unfortunately, you represent the opinions of many when it comes to the paranoia about our quadcopters. Lack of understanding combined with a distrust of 'robots' from hollywood movies drives this.

The point is, you are just speculating and escalating the problem based on nothing but seeing a quadcopter fly nearby. As a person familiar with the hobby I wouldn't have expected that you would go as far as to wonder if the operator was a child molester.

No doubt it is unsafe and unwise to fly near people, but please don't spread the 'creep' preconception.

Comment by Gary McCray on July 21, 2014 at 10:49am

"Unfortunately, you represent the opinions of many when it comes to the paranoia about our quadcopters."

Actually, what he represents is a clear case for the justification of that paranoia.

Obviously this person was behaving dangerously, irresponsibly and with no reasonable thought as to how people would perceive his actions.

Complaining that bigkahuna is here in any way incorrect for the impressions he got himself is what is unreasonable.

If I had seen this guy behaving in this fashion I would have taken whatever steps were available to me to first try and inform him of his breach of the public trust and the damage he was doing to our hobby and to inform him of what appropriate "behavior" was.

Failing that I would have called the police myself.

As far as I am concerned, those unwilling to operate responsibly in this hobby are our enemy and should have the full force of our wrath brought down on their head - legally of course.

Comment by Joe Lance on July 21, 2014 at 11:07am

Just the other day, I was sitting on the beach in the same situation and wishing I had my quadcopter with me to video the scenery (not the people). I consciously did not bring my quad for fear or annoying anyone.  As I sat there, two guys in an ultralight flew over at about 60', one of them hanging out with a camera and a telephoto lens obviously taking pictures of beach goers.  Not a single person got upset, got angry, or complained about their privacy being invaded.  Why the double standard ???  

Comment by Jonathan Hair on July 21, 2014 at 11:14am


If you have concerns about flying too close to people, that would be valid, and may warrant saying something or taking some sort of action.

I agree that as FPV pilots we need to be weary of the spying perception and not make things worse for ourselves. Beaches seem like prime grounds for people to think their privacy is being violated (even though there is no expectation of privacy in public).

Consider the following:

"A guy walked near me at the beach with a camera phone. He could have been a child molester"

"A guy was taking pictures at the beach. He could have been a child molester"

"A guy with a dash camera seemed to be following me in his car through the parking lot. He could have been a child molester"

All of the above statements are ridiculous. Why does it change when the camera is attached to a  toy helicopter? I get that many people come to this conclusion, and your website attempts to combat that. Were on the same page, but just because it is a common misconception that doesn't make it any more logical and I get frustrated when I hear people spread it.

The OP stated that they guy setup only feet away from him (again unsafe) and then hovered for a time nearby. If he was sitting right next to the OP, why does the OP think he was trying to be sneaky and take perverted pictures? Couldn't the guy just turn his head and look that way?

It seems that the Phatom pilot was a nuisance, acting foolishly, and probably rude. The OP would have been right to ask him to stop. Instead, he now he formed preconceived notions about the hobby as a whole making statements like:

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.

Bad apples will always exist. Technology can be used inappropriately. We should all be smarter than to jump to conclusions about the intentions of some guy we know nothing about.

BTW, I like the website and may print some of those pages out to carry in my transmitter box.


Comment by Gary McCray on July 21, 2014 at 11:16am

That is utterly completely unacceptable behavior for an ultralight too and if anybody had reported them to the FAA the FAA would now be in possession of their ultralight, they would be no longer allowed to fly and a large fine would result.

That is a manned aircraft operating under relaxed but not non-existent rules and what you described breeches those rules so badly there would be hell to pay.

recently a pilot in a twin engine private airplane overflew and buzzed his local AMA flying field while a meet was in process.

I do not know the outcome, but there were plenty of videos and my guess is that the FAA has made this guys life a living hell.

They truly do not take this stuff lightly and they have a very heavy hammer.

Comment by robert mcintosh on July 21, 2014 at 11:23am
All of the scary media and story's like this are because of the phantom exclusively. Ive had this exact same sceneratio happen to me three times at my local beach within the last 6 months. 99% of people who are annoyed with drones wouldn't even have ever seen one if it weren't for that white thing. There's something to be said for having to build one before you fly. Like earning your wings. Rather than throwing down 500 bucks at b&h and all of a sudden you think you're Chuck Yeager.

Comment by Jared S on July 21, 2014 at 11:34am

If it was a woman flying the quad, would she be creepy child molester? Nope. Double standard.

Comment by Gary McCray on July 21, 2014 at 11:40am

Hi Jonathan,

The fact is that a lot of people are "creeped" out or feel exposed, and certainly even more so when they are stand around semi-naked on a beach as is normal.

It is a perfectly normal human reaction and with the current media fed frenzy relating to "drone" obviously people are even more sensitive than they might be otherwise.

But this is the "reality" we have to live with and bigkahunas reaction is certainly a legitimate one under the circumstances.

There is a really big gap between the dilettante Phantom flyer and the General Public.

We have to be have with the utmost responsibility if we are to have any hope of turning that around or at least waiting for the excess paranoia to dissipate.

In fact, bigkahuna's experience and response serves as a simple illumination of what was also bound to be running through the minds of many of the people present.

You can bet that very few of them were left with a positive impression of "drones" or Phantom quadcopters for that matter.

We all know the irresponsible and invasive actions are bad and that their seriousness is even more exaggerated by current public opinion and sensationalist media.

We can't fight that, but we can inform and police ourselves and if we don't we are doomed.

I can only hope we aren't anyway.

In the meantime, don't shoot the messenger, his considerations were perfectly valid and likely he wasn't the only one who felt that way at the beach that day.

RC airplanes operate at a greater distance from people and are generally operated by experienced pilots who understand the dangers.

Quadcopters can be very in your face and are selling to and being operated by people with no experience whatever.

What Can Possibly Go Wrong? !

Comment by Michael Ciurescu on July 21, 2014 at 11:52am

Don't know about you, but things like this should be taken as lessons learned... if this event did not take away your interest of flying a drone (hopefully), at least when you will fly your drone, you will be aware of how others feel and you will not fly the same way as this guy did... you will keep your distance, right?

If you are curious about my first lesson? I got a F550 hexacopter, and one of my first flights, I went out to calibrate my drone (PIDs, etc... I went in a grass field with no people around), I was flying a few feet above the ground, and I lost track of it's orientation, the drone was drifting, and I wanted to bring it closer to me, and I pushed the stick too much, and it went straight into my right leg... I was wearing jeens, and it hurt of course, I was not too worried about it at the moment... but I had no idea just how bad it was until I arrived at home, and I removed my jeens to see a ~ 2 inch "cut", not really a cut... but I was almost bleeding from the force of impact alone through the jeens... at that moment all I could think was: "OMG! What if it was my face!".... so... lesson learned! now before I take off, I make sure no one is around, I walk away at least 15 feet from it when I take off, or when I land. I had an AR Drone before, and I got hit by it many times, and I did not even have a scratch!  but my new drone (the F550) is much, much more powerfull and definitelly not a toy to play with, and I would say I got a pretty good lesson very early :) and now I am actually happy that it hapened to me, rather than someone else...

I think something like that should happen to every drone operator... you know... just for the wake up call :)


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