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I was followed by a drone today are they legal?


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<p>Today while hiking through Quarry Lakes Regional Park my friend fired up a cigarette. I warned him stating you see the signs that say "No Smoking" right? He laughed and said who the heck is going to tell their is no one around here for miles. <br>

However, shortly after I heard a strange buzzing noise and simultaneously saw a flock of Pelicans radically change their direction of flight. All except one. However, when I looked closer I noticed what I thought was a bird was hovering and then started moving sideways at the same speed we were walking.<br>

I stopped and took a couple of pictures of it with my Tamron 70-300 at max zoom. It immediately went very high straight up and I lost sight of it. However, when I got home and zoomed in I realized we were 100% being spied on by a drone.</p><div>[ATTACH=full]723470[/ATTACH]</div>

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<p>Here is the original shot before enhancements. This is really strange is this legal? Was this controlled by game warden or just kids playing around? Looks like a web cam attached so this could be recording video. Also the camera could pan and tilt. I have a few other pictures and could see the camera in different angles following us as the drone moved past us. It hen took off into the clouds. It had a really far range and we never saw anyone close enough to be controlling it. Freaky..<br>

Pretty sure it was something like this..<br>

<p> </p><div>[ATTACH=full]723471[/ATTACH]</div>

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<p>The first thing to know: yes, it's just as legal as it is when you point your Tamron 70-300 at somebody else in the park. It's a camera. But unlike your 70-300, it's a very wide angle lens which - at the altitude you're showing there - would leave you looking like a very small part of the scene indeed. <br /><br />Now, if the park has a ban on photography, you might indeed be able to complain to the rangers that run it. If they don't have a ban on photography, but DO have a ban on getting cameras up above tree level or operating RC vehicles in the park, then that's also something you can complain about. The camera on that little quad copter is very similar to a little GoPro, and in some places you'll see rigs like that taking overhead landscape shots from kites or balloons as high or higher than that drone. <br /><br />Most likely, the person flying it was just out having a good time, and enjoying the scenery with a camera, pretty much just like you were. If you felt it was being flown recklessly, that would be a matter very similar to someone racing past you too close on a mountain bike, or running their crazy dog off lead, or being a bad driver in the parking lot. Which is to say, dangerous behavior is dangerous behavior. That little drone, though, is pretty lightweight and no more likely to hurt you in the very unlikely event if it hitting you in the head than would be a football thrown by some kids playing in a park.<br /><br />In terms of "following" you, it's possible that the pilot was using a low-res downlink, and practicing his or her steady flying and camera movement/framing. A lot like you might practice on the things you see in your surroundings. Flying the camera creates some unique challenges, and it takes a lot of practice to get stable, well-composed images from a small quad like that - even with that super-wide lens. <br /><br />One other thing to know: these small quads use small, lightweight LiPo batteries, and can only stay up for a few minutes. It's not the sort of thing that a park ranger could fly all around the park looking in on people. Just nowhere near the flight time for serious work. With these little guys, you plan your shot, launch, move around until you've got what you're looking for, and scram back to wherever you plan to land before voltage drops and you have a several hundred dollar crash. <br /><br />Not to worry! It's someone having some fun. You'll see a lot more people flying these small copters around as the technology improves and becomes less expensive. More and more photographers are exploring these tools as a way to prepare for commercial use of them on everything from real estate work to event coverage, but mostly it's people goofing off.<br /><br />BTW, the copter you saw was a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/DJI-Phantom-Quadcopter-Integrated-Camcorder/dp/B00FW78710/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384753342&sr=8-1&keywords=phantom+vision"><strong>DJI Phantom Vision</strong></a>.</p>
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After the drone owner studied his video he may have said "Hey, my drone

was 100% being spied on by some guy with a telephoto lens! Is that

legal?"

 

I recently photographed a video crew using their similar small drone for a

documentary project. It was pretty cool. As Matt said, they don't get

much airborne time before the batteries need to be recharged.

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<p>Wow! it is really hard to believe this technology is available for the average user. We had been hiking about 45 minutes so where quite deep into the park when we saw this. I looked closely and couldn't find anyone with a remote controlling this thing so was quite surprised at the RF range. Just didn't like it following me felt illegal. Why would someone want to spy on people on a hiking trail? This seems very unsafe for women who were running on the trail at sunset because someone could follow you with you having absolutely no idea they were there. <br>

Pretty expensive toy for kids. Has flight time of 25 minutes if painted blue would be almost impossible to see. I heard it way before I saw it but only because I was looking up at birds flying. Otherwise I would have never seen it. Guess I am just paranoid and I suspect these will not be legal for long.</p>

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<p>MP: I think you're probably greatly over estimating the amount of "spying" that someone can do with a flying GoPro. It's a lot less useful than, say, a pair of binoculars being used (silently!) by someone sitting in the bushes. That 25-minute flight time is, I can assure you, very optimistic. The moment the pilot makes altitude changes, deals with even a slight breeze, or does much in the way of sending the camera pitch up/down commands, that flight time is going to drop to less than half of that. <br /><br />Further: the video downlink on that unit is limited by WiFi ranges. It's line-of-sight only (doesn't work around corners or through the trees and whatnot). I'll see if I can post a photo <em>from</em> one of these, to help you understand just how non-spy-ish these things really are.</p>
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<p>It appears the FAA hasn't updated its UAV guidelines for recreational use since 1981:<br>

<a href="http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgAdvisoryCircular.nsf/0/1acfc3f689769a56862569e70077c9cc/$FILE/ATTBJMAC/ac91-57.pdf">http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgAdvisoryCircular.nsf/0/1acfc3f689769a56862569e70077c9cc/$FILE/ATTBJMAC/ac91-57.pdf</a></p>

<p>Laws are slow to catch up with new technology, but it looks like the rapidly maturing multicopter market will soon face flight restrictions, at least commercially, long before the law has to deal with privacy concerns, and these proposed regulations probably has more to do with (national) security concerns than anything else:<br>

<a href="http://photographyforrealestate.net/2012/01/24/warning-faa-says-us-airspace-is-closed-to-all-commercial/">http://photographyforrealestate.net/2012/01/24/warning-faa-says-us-airspace-is-closed-to-all-commercial/</a></p>

<p>My 30-size helicopter falls in the same category as multicopters but it's far more dangerous to operate, and liability issues has always been a concern for me. Its rotor blades can kill, and a collision with power lines can cause serious infrastructure damage. Those are reasons why I will only take it out with flying clubs, or tethered to the ground in the backyard to hover at low altitudes. </p>

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The example you mentioned - a lone woman hiker or jogger - might also be

an argument in favor of official use of drones to support the safety of

visitors to parks. Routine drone patrols might be intrusive, but to

augment activity such as a quick check for an overdue hiker before calling

out the full air patrol or ground search parties, it makes sense.

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<p>I've been doing some research on these also. Looks like these are now pretty common in Real Estate aerial photography with quite a few samples. I think this is a lot different than binoculars. This was actually tracking us on a trail were there was no high ground around for miles. In any case I no longer believe it was controller by parks and recreation. But, quite an interesting device none the less. I am torn between if this is something I would like to add to my real-estate photography service or not.<br>

Here are the rest of the pictures from this trip so you can see how secluded this location is: <br>

<a href="http://patrickwheaton.com/quarrylake">http://patrickwheaton.com/quarrylake</a><br>

You will see original pics of this thing flying around.</p>

 

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<p>Lex brings up a good point. Whenever I've flown one my drones near police or fire/rescue people, the very first thing they think about is how private operators could pitch in from the air the same way that communities come together when looking for (for example) that lost kid in the woods. <br /><br />Anyway, here's a frame grab from some GoPro video. The camera was mounted on a variation of the drone you saw in the park, and my best estimate is that it was at about the altitude you saw. There's no looking down at what you're having for lunch, or whether your car's tags are expired, etc.</p><div>[ATTACH=full]738292[/ATTACH]</div>
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<p>You make a good point Lex on terms of safety for people in the park. It all comes down to who has the rights to own and operate something like this. Definitely can cover way more ground than someone on foot and gives a decent birds eye view. I kind of want one but it just seems weird to me still. Can definitely be used for both good and bad.<br>

<br /> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khgYaejtiSI</p>

<p>Good links Michael. Suck it can't be used for business purposes. No commercial use so if you get paid for the images you get, it is a FAA violation. What? $10,000 for first time offense plus possible jail time for making money with a toy. OK so I guess I won't be getting one of these for my real estate business.<br>

<strong>In discussions with staffers about FAA regulations they indicated that a first time offense minimum fine is $10,000, up to $100,000, plus carries a possible 3 to 10 years in the pen.</strong></p>

<p> </p>

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<p>The FAA just released an early draft of their road map on this topic, and they appear to be very aware that sUAS (small unmanned aircraft systems) is an area they can "legitimize" well in advance of the much tougher task (getting full-sale UAS integrated into the national airspace). <br /><br />Translation: they know that there are thousands of businesses chomping at the bit (and thousand more who are just going ahead and doing it anyway!), and that most can operate with pretty modest-sized, safe equipment. They'll be expecting commercial users to adhere to some basic rules (like no flying after dark, nothing outside line of site, stay under 400', possibly some basic written-test-quality examination/certification, etc). But I think that early rule making will happen very quickly for this market. And it's the photographers who've been learning the skills and building a portfolio while flying (on paper) as a "hobby" that will be immediately ready to show their wares and do business.</p>
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<p>Michael: I fly two of them. One weighs under 1200g (and no, I wouldn't want that falling on my head from 400' anyway!) and the other weighs more like 7500g. Ouch! The big one is a <em>much</em> bigger responsibility when it comes to choosing venues in which to fly, and circumstances appropriate to it.<br /><br />But honestly? I'm more worried about when I'm shooting from the ground, and risk dropping a lighting boom on someone's head.<br /><br />Here's a twilight shot taken from the bigger bird:<br /><br /><a href="/photo/17596855&size=lg">http://www.photo.net/photo/17596855&size=lg</a></p>
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<p>Very impressive photo Matt. These things are definitely dangerous. The propellers don't have guards and they are quite strong plastic. If one lost power and fell on your head from the height they can fly you could be severely injured. The batter packs alone would be like getting hit in the head with a rock.<br /> However, the technology available at this price range is intriguing as long as it is a hobby only.<br>

I got to admit I wasn't scared but was definitely uneasy when I saw this thing. I couldn't help wandering if it were armed. I am sure in time someone will figure out how to arm them. They can carry up to 50LBS with lots of attachments for creative thinkers / tinkerers.</p>

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MP: Good old fashioned camera booms/cranes can also cause serious injury (as can all sorts of equipment run by all

sorts of hobbyists and pros).

 

Personally, I'd find the pros to be a lot safer than many hobbyists. They're the ones with their business at stake, with

insurance adjusters to please and a reputation to maintain. Think of it like a pro operating a piece of earth moving

equipment three feet off the side of a highway. Attention to details, situational awareness, and a professional's

commitment to public relations add a lot of safety to the picture.

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<p>I definitely understand your view Matt. But, If one were to be standing under a regular camera boom or crane they would probably know it was there. Unlike these drones which can fall from the air from over 400 feet simply because the battery died. There also seem to be no regulations, age limit or controls on who can own and operate these drones. There are laws for kids riding bikes without helmets but any 12 year old who's parents can afford it can buy them a drone. What are the weight, size, range, speed, power limits?<br>

Where can they be flown? Are they safe for power lines, could one say fly it downtown San Francisco for entertainment? If one did fly it where they weren't supposed to and hurt someone or damage property, how would anyone track it back to the owner. Maybe they should have licenses plates and be registered. Just seems like a little more than a toy to me.</p>

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<p>M.P., maybe part of the reason for the apparently relaxed regulation is because there have been few reported accidents, and none that I'm aware of due to negligence or malicious intent. </p>

<p>Folks playing with these things are generally tech. savvy and responsible. An irresponsible owner will likely suffer expensive crashes multiple times before causing any real harm to others, and by then he'd be too broke to fly. :-) </p>

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<p>I suppose I should have already made John H's point: hobbyists (and professionals) have been flying remote controlled aircraft for decades. These new multi-rotors are a LOT easier to fly safely because the onboard electronics automatically help to keep things stable. Yes, some are going to crash, just like RC airplanes - cameras mounted or not - have always crashed. The odds of one connecting with you, personally, on the ground are extremely slim. You're far more likely to be hit by the pilot on the ground as he drives his car to where he's flying than you are to be hit by one of these copters out shooting rural real estate photos.<br /><br />I should mention also that the $10k fine that's been in play deserves some more examination. The FAA has only aimed that fine at one person so far, and it's because he was flying in what appeared to be a reckless manner over busy streets and through/around traffic at eye level. The pilot in question is notorious for that sort of flying, and does it to gain YouTube eyeballs in connection with promoting his RC hardware selling business. Definitely not the sort of guy the hobby/business needs in the spotlight! But he's prepping for a court battle with the FAA anyway, challenging some legal fine points surrounding their authority in the matter. The "commercial use" issue is only barely tangental to the reason they wrote him the fine - which was recklessness. His lawyers are using the occasion to point out that the FAA's current rules really are quite half-baked in this area, and the FAA is indeed scrambling to try to keep up with the technology.<br /><br />But we don't need new regulations in that area to give someone legal trouble if they endanger someone through bad behavior. If you were hurt on a sidewalk downtown because someone dropped a coffee cup (or a camera!) from their apartment balcony, there's already plenty of ways to deal with that situation from a criminal/civil perspective. Some knucklehead did, in fact, fly one of these little quad-copters from a balcony in New York a few weeks back, and crash it onto the sidewalk at the feet of someone walking along. The NYPD didn't need anything new on the books to cite him for reckless endangerment, which they did. But that could have happened with a 40-year-old RC airplane model or a large kite on 1000' of string, too. Or a flower pot.</p>
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Seems like no-one is addressing the possibility that the park service is operating drones with somewhat better cameras

designed to actually spy on people -- perhaps to try to determine if anyone is being reckless with fire or something. Is it

really that out of character for a government agency to do something like this? What is especially suspicious in this case

was following the people and reacting against someone taking a picture of it. This implies intention.

 

 

It's not the same as you taking a picture that includes someone. It's more like you following them around with a telephoto

lens taking continuous pictures of them. It kind of amounts to stalking. I'm not trying to blow it up out of proportion, but to

me this is more than just someone out having fun (with an electrically powered device in an area where it could crash and

hurt someone or catch fire). I don't much like the idea of having these things follow me around in general and no I'm not

doing anything wrong. They're welcome to fly around taking scenics or even fly for the park service to look for fire, but

actually stalking people on the ground is too much I think.

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<p>David: I've watched hundreds of I'm-new-at-this videos posted by people who are aspiring to do a little creative aerial videography as part of larger projects. Many of those are folks who'd like to end up stitching their aerial footage in with traditional production work as part of a documentary or similar project. <em>Many</em> of them want to be able to do tracking shots of vehicles, moving water, pedestrians, sports action, and similar scenes. They all know they need hundreds of hours of practice to master safe flying along side of the cinematography skills and sensibility needed to make that footage at all useful.<br /><br />So what do they do? Exactly the same thing that people doing ground-based photography and videography do when they want to practice stuff like that: they go out into public spaces and give it a go. If that's "spying" or "stalking," then so is what every aspiring street photographer does, or every dad with a 500mm lens shooting the scene at a sports event. <br /><br />The biggest problem here is that people hear the word "drone" and go into some really unrealistic places with their concerns. The fact that <em>arming</em> one was mentioned above is a great example. It's like worrying that someone might mount a rocket launcher on their monopod, right next to their camcorder. </p>

<blockquote>

<p>It's not the same as you taking a picture that includes someone. It's more like you following them around with a telephoto lens taking continuous pictures of them.</p>

</blockquote>

<p>I agree. And that doesn't happen much either - and probably less than some people think. It's all too easy for some passer-by to assume that that guy with the 1000mm lens who's sitting in the bushes waiting for the Lesser Eastern Yellow Headed Vulture is actually there to spy on people on the bike path. And just as wrong a conclusion.<br /><br />I've yet to have one of my copters out shooting on the periphery of an area where there are people without having several come over to ask lots of enthusiastic questions. I consider it a solemn duty to show them how it all works, what the real-word limitations are, and to point out that it's a flexible new creative tool and a fun pursuit. I've see a couple of "OMG is that one of those <em>spy drones</em>?" sort of openers that quickly turned into a more informed perspective - especially once I emailed them an overhead shot of them waving at the camera, or offered to get them an airborne image of their garden or their bass boat. I always carry an iPad with a portfolio of stills and video clips to show what it's all about - the same tactic that many street photographers use to help people to understand the whole thing.</p>

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<blockquote>

<p><em>"Seems like no-one is addressing the possibility that the park service is operating drones with somewhat better cameras designed to actually spy on people "</em></p>

</blockquote>

<p>It seems rather improbable given the bureaucracy over government gear procurement, staff training, and the limited line-of-sight utility in such an application. <br>

</p>

<blockquote>

<p><em>"They're welcome to fly around taking scenics or even fly for the park service to look for fire, but actually stalking people on the ground is too much I think."</em></p>

</blockquote>

<p>It could be just some immature kids or adults, either unfamiliar with their craft or have decided to swoop down just for the hell of it. <br>

<br>

Multicopters are so popular these days that sales have expanded well beyond traditional RC enthusiasts' circles, in part due to lowering prices, relative ease of operation, and proliferation of cameras and stealth recording. <br>

<br>

This type of behavior would be unthinkable to a traditional RC helicopter operator, but from an irresponsible or immature user's viewpoint, it can also serve to wreak havoc, for laughs, to be posted on YouTube, and may well start a new genre like folks who mount locomotive horns in their cars to scare/prank pedestrians. <br>

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=train+horns+scare+prank&sm=3">https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=train+horns+scare+prank&sm=3</a></p>

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