3D Robotics

3689606080?profile=originalFrom the NY Daily News:

They’re private eyes in the skies.

Investigators are taking drones to new heights — using the remote-controlled aircraft to catch New Yorkers cheating on spouses, lying about disabilities and endangering their kids.

“People want you to believe there’s all this negativity associated with drones . . . but they could be a very helpful tool,” said Olwyn Triggs, a gumshoe for 23 years and president of Professional Investigators Network Inc. in Glen Cove, LI.

Triggs recently used a drone to find an upstate man suspected of insurance fraud. Signs on his rural property warned that trespassers would be shot, so she sent in her 2-pound, foot-long Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter, which costs about $1,000.

“He was supposedly fully disabled,” she said. “We knew he was active but couldn’t prove it because of the layout of the property. I couldn’t risk being shot.”

So, as a drone hovered above, snapping images of the man chopping wood, Triggs manned the controls from behind a vehicle about 1,000 feet away.

“You need to think outside the box when someone’s acutely aware,” she said, adding the fraudster pretended to walk with a cane. “That’s when you’ll consider using a drone.”

Still, the legality of piloting drones is a gray area.

The Federal Aviation Administration deems it illegal to fly them for commercial use, including film and television.

But since a federal judge dismissed a $10,000 fine against a commercial drone user in March, many businesses are going ahead and flying them anyway.

“A lot of PIs bought drones [after the ruling],” Triggs said. “But before you use a drone, you’re calling everyone you know just to be sure.”

PIs are also using drones to catch cheating spouses.

Matthew Seifer recently pretended to test-fly a drone in Central Park. He was actually recording a husband fooling around with a female coworker from 100 feet away.

“Sometimes the best thing is to be right there in plain sight,” said Seifer, president of Long Island- based Executive Investigations.

“We had to get in and get out real quick,” he added. “We deployed a drone for eight minutes and got five minutes’ worth of video. That was the closure our client was looking for.”

Seifer operates several Phantom models, including the Phantom 2 Vision, and said drones are a “selling point” for clients.

Firms like his are charging double for their use — hiking the hourly rate from $47 to $97.

In another recent case, Seifer was having trouble tailing a fast-driving Long Island doctor suspected of hanky-panky. So the PI parked behind a steakhouse where the doc had taken a lover.

“We raised the drone above the restaurant, [and] he was engaged in a sexual act in the front seat of his car,” the investigator said.

“[Drones] get us those types of money shots.”

Drones have also been used in custody battles.

This year, Seifer’s team sent a drone to Sheepshead Bay to record a dad drinking and partying on a boat with his kids.

The PI snapped the boat’s serial number and images of the kids, who were not wearing life jackets, from more than 300 yards away.

Seifer’s footage has also busted criminals.

He recently helped a homeowner in another state file an insurance claim against tenants accused of running a dogfighting ring.

“We couldn’t get access to the back of the house through regular means,” Seifer said. “We utilized the drone to get evidentiary video of doghouses, chains and certain individuals.”

He turned over footage to authorities, and four people were arrested. The tenant lost his lease.

“Clients are amazed,” Seifer said. “The drones are a game changer.”

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  • How apropos.  Maybe Lachlan Hayes could catch himself?

  • We think the introduction of the use of drones into the private investigator field is a very exciting step, especially over here in the UK where not many UK PI's are currently using this technology. We are currently looking into investing in a drone to add to our surveillance toolbox. 

  • You make good points Stefan.  In the US the law is contradictory.  For instance, in Texas the law states that you cannot photograph from above with the intent to perform surveillance, however the Riley case, which would take precedent over Texas law, dealt with a pilot who's specific intent was to surveil a particular individual's property.

  • Not necessarily. "Secret watching" (that's the expression translated) in Finland requires intent. So a pilot circling around your house because he wants to watch you commits a crime. A pilot flying around and looking for orientation marks and coincidentally looking down on you, would not. IIRC, there's also some case law which says that it must be possible to identify the person [being watched], otherwise it's also not "secret watching". So the pilot who circles at 150ft and looks down on you without a scope or tele lens, wouldn't commit the crime even if he intended to.

    That's also how Google Streetview got away, because their cameras - of course - took photos of tons of people in their gardens. But they didn't intent to look at the people.

    Besides, it's not about what is visible from public ground. It's about "private areas" and using a technical devices.


    Neighbor has 10cm (yes, 4 inches) high fence. Standing at the property's boundary and staring: legal (unless the neighbor gets creeped out and asks the cops to issue you a restraining order or simply comes and beats the sh*t out of you)


    Watching the same neighbor at exactly the same spot in his garden with a scope: crime

    --> Private area (fenced)
    --> Technical device
    --> Intent

    All in all I find this pretty reasonable and common sense if you look at common "good behavior" standards.

  • Yes Stefan, that is what I am saying.  Actually, in the Riley case the court ruled that he did not even have privacy in his own building since roof panels were missing and the buildings contents could be observed with plain vision from above.

    If you could not view people behind a fence, on their private property, it would be illegal for a pilot to look down ;0

  • @BacklashRC:

    So you are saying, in the US you don't have any reasonable expectation of privacy on your private ground, even if that's fenced as long as you are not inside a building? Then I can understand why privacy advocates run circles under the ceiling about drones and privacy in the US!

    Here in Finland (and in most European countries), it's illegal to "use a technical device" to take images or video of a person in "any area which belongs to their private space". At least here in Finland, this explicitly includes fenced property.

  • Ya, this goes against a bunch of legal and community established rules/laws. 

    On another note, I would dogfight their drone with my drone, lol.

  • I know the FAA only has anything to do with air space safety and not privacy. It is upon individual states to pass the privacy acts they wish.

    HB 912 passed by the house and by congress for Texas has a lot to do with privacy and nothing to do with safety. So how did this happen if congress mandated they be made exempt from rule making if THEY passed HB912?

    On another note...If you are using your small hobby type UAV to make money/commercial purposes you are governed by another set of rules other than those set forth for the hobby enthusiast.

  • Moderator
    Rick, you are talking about two totally separate issues.
    The FAA cannot address anything related to this blog about privacy... As has been mentioned, they only have a mandate to ensure safety of the nations airspace.
    In regards to our small hobby type UAVs, Congress has mandated that they be made except from rule making "except where airspace safety is concerned".
  • That law we talked about earlier for Texas HB912 has been greatly modified since the initial submission, I have no concerns with it. It is limited to control of surveillance and specifically allows all the intended uses that I wanted to see. It does have a lot of grey area and is subject to interpretation!

    I highly believe that when you are out in public you should not have to get someone's permission if you catch them on film or in a picture! If you get into your car and drive five miles you have more than likely been caught by a camera a few times, they are on every street corner now!

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