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 Rob G on July 22, 2014 at 5:07am

I agree with the OP.

I am and have been an avid hobbyist for more than 20 years (fly, design, develop, code etc) and love FPV just as much as anyone else here but there is however a time and place for everything and an active weekend beach is not it.

As much as we believe in the good of our multi-rotor machines the vast majority of the public not interested and find them a nuisance (unknown agenda of operator, sound, fear of being hit (real), intrusion of perceived personal space etc), especially at places like this where people come to relax and get some quality family time.

They simply don't want them around. They don't want to be approached by some guy with 'educational' printed handouts either. They want to be left alone - we should respect that.

One risk to our hobby *will* be the rise of 'privacy' devices (think cheap far east made cell phone jammers that some public transit riders resort to silence the cell phone jerks) - if people are forced into feeling that they need to 'protect' themselves from our hobby they will.

I think the OP was more tolerant than most - at 5 feet away a paper cup filled with salt water or sand would have been a effective low-tech way of solving the problem :)

Comment by Michael Ciurescu on July 22, 2014 at 7:04am
I think the OP was more tolerant than most - at 5 feet away a paper cup filled with salt water or sand would have been a effective low-tech way of solving the problem :)


Rob, sorry, but I think that is the worst thing you can do... (hopefully you were joking)

If you damage the drone while it's flying, it could make it go in a spin, and be uncontrollable, and if there are other people around, it might crash into someone else (or even yourself!), if the drone has carbon fibre props, you will have scars for life!

Best thing to do, is to stay away from the drone, and find the operator, and go have a CHAT with him, but do not start arguing with him, because he will loose his concetration and be distracted, and that could cause a nasty crash too!! When his drone is safely on the ground, then sure... give him hell :)

Comment by BacklashRC on July 22, 2014 at 7:04am

"The one thing I did know is 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."

The "one thing" the OP did know, is actually incorrect.  The flight may have been unsafe.  It may have been rude. But it was certainly not invading the OP's privacy as there is no legal "reasonable expectation of privacy' on a beach.

If the OP is truly interested in legally protected privacy in a public place like a beach it can be had.  If he was in a tent that was closed he has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

An interesting aspect of the proliferation of multirotors is that it is becoming apparent that people in the United States have an unrealistic sense of how much privacy they actually have.

To make things clear, generally speaking, if you are plainly visible from a public space (including the public airway), even if you yourself are on private property, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Comment by bigkahuna on July 22, 2014 at 7:40am

The "one thing" the OP did know, is actually incorrect.  The flight may have been unsafe.  It may have been rude. But it was certainly not invading the OP's privacy as there is no legal "reasonable expectation of privacy' on a beach.

If the OP is truly interested in legally protected privacy in a public place like a beach it can be had.  If he was in a tent that was closed he has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

I noticed a couple people have made similar comments.  Imagine a world that where ever you go, be it hiking to the top of some desolate mountain, or sailing in the middle of an ocean, or sitting in your own back yard reading a book, somebody (individual, government, or otherwise) can fly their drone within feet of you and just watch you.  Perhaps this is the direction the world is going, but I certainly hope not.

Whether or not the law allows it is almost irrelevant (and although I never mentioned my location, everyone has assumed I'm in the US).  I remember as a child we learned to respect other people's space and their right to privacy.  When we talk to each other, we stand several feet apart, not inches.  It's not a law, it's how we respect each other's space.  My fear is that drones have the potential to allow people (or governments, etc.) to invade other people's space and privacy anonymously.

Is it legal?  Perhaps, but laws change often based on public sentiment.  Before this encounter I never really considered the negative effect a single, small drone can have.  This one encounter really changed my perspective.

Comment by BacklashRC on July 22, 2014 at 8:17am

Laws may change based on public sentiment, but Constitutional protections, in this case based on the First Amendment right to to Free Expression, will almost certainly get any law that restricts that expression, shot down in court.

Photography rights are pretty well enshrined in case law.  Misguided politicians will undoubtedly pass legislation barring UAV's from taking photographs and/or video, and that legislation will be deemed unconstitutional as it unfairly discriminates against a specific group of individuals attempting to exercise Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

There is a difference between respecting people's space, and respecting people's right to privacy.  Someone's space is subjective and changes from one person to the next.  Someone's right to privacy is a specific legal concept with fairly clearly defined parameters.

Comment by BacklashRC on July 22, 2014 at 8:21am

...  I should add that you are right bigkahuna, I did assume that the event in question took place in the United States.  The colloquial nature of the language in your post is familiar and domestic (I am in the United States.). With that said, I could be completely off base.  I really don't know how privacy issues play out in other countries.

Comment by Dave Bozarth on July 22, 2014 at 8:26am

Bigkahuna - please understand, at least from my standpoint and view of the current US laws, the right to privacy has nothing to due with being buzzed by this jackass. If you are in the US and you are in public view, you do not have the right to privacy and you never have had it. It's all an illusion. As for a right to space, the Supreme Court just shot down the "bubble" laws that protected people going into abortion clinics... So, according to them, that's out as well as long as you are on public property. So in the end, he does have that right to take pictures that may include you in them while you are in public view, his buzzing by and being too close is bullshit, pure and simple and that needs addressed through regulations. (Sorry, I do not have enough faith in people doing the right thing just for the sake of doing the right thing) I hope we can have some regulations set up similar (but maybe a bit less strict) to the Aussies one-page that was provided by an earlier poster at some point.

The rights of everyone involved needs to be weighed in a situation like this against the potential of likely inflicting harm to others before people over re-act and shut everyone down. It is a lot easier to make a good law with level headed people the first time around than to try and get rid of oppressive laws created with people fired up over nothing.

Comment by Rob G on July 22, 2014 at 10:35am

 Michael,

I think the OP was more tolerant than most - at 5 feet away a paper cup filled with salt water or sand would have been a effective low-tech way of solving the problem :)


Rob, sorry, but I think that is the worst thing you can do... (hopefully you were joking)

If you damage the drone while it's flying, it could make it go in a spin, and be uncontrollable, and if there are other people around, it might crash into someone else (or even yourself!), if the drone has carbon fibre props, you will have scars for life!

Agree - but people are people and when annoyed they will sometimes react in the most basic way, not usually thinking of the consequences (fwiw - the operator flying the thing would be liable for loss / damage / injury etc) 

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