Wednesday Quickies: Drone Edition

For some reason, drones keep popping up in my news feed this week. Apart from the DHL delivery drone I posted about on Monday, I’ve found a few interesting (and occasionally perplexing) stories about camera-wielding drones. A few examples:

Perhaps the most important drones in the world right now are the ones that are currently filming the protests in Hong Kong. The protests are absolutely massive-bigger than any I have ever seen on the news, at any rate. But anybody who has ever been to a protest march with a camera phone knows that it can be really tricky to snap a photo that accurately portrays the size of the crowd. Most of the best ones tend to come from bystanders on top of tall buildings. In Hong Kong, however, small camera drones are apparently allowing journalists to deal with that limitation, and capture stunning photos like this one:

hong kong protests

This photo was taken by a drone. From Mashable.

This is kind of exciting from an activist perspective. It makes it that much easier to document both protests, and the police brutality that often follows them. The police can arrest journalists, but even if they ban drones in protest areas, they’ll probably have a hard time bringing them down, especially as they get smaller and fly higher. That’s probably the rationale behind the flone, which has been developed specifically as an activist technology.

It turns out, however, that camera drones are already illegal in the United States! So illegal, in fact, that even big-name Hollywood producers have traditionally had to go abroad to use them. The FAA recently granted an exemption to the rule against commercial drones for film makers, but it still comes with some pretty restrictive stipulations. They can’t fly very far, and it looks like there will be a lot of red tape in the permitting process. What this shows is that the FAA regulations that opponents of delivery drones pointed to so triumphantly are actually extremely restrictive by international standards. Of course, it’s an open question whether that means that the FAA will be more open to change if commercial drones become popular elsewhere, or does it mean that they’ll be even more reluctant to do so.

And lastly, there’s this thing. I’ll admit that I find it a bit neat, and the people who made it certainly deserve some credit for originality. But what exactly is it for? Maybe it will have a small niche market in extreme sports types, but beyond that I can’t imagine who might need it. Anybody who wears that thing around while not climbing a mountain will probably suffer from the Glasshole Effect pretty quickly. But it does demonstrate that drone technology is getting cheaper, smaller, and more manageable at a pretty fast rate. Maybe they’ll find all kinds of little niche applications like this. Personally, I’d like one that I can remotely fly around my house whenever I go out and get paranoid that I’ve left the stove on.

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