Question of the week
This week a Kentucky judge cleared a man of charges for shooting a neighbor’s drone out of the sky with a shotgun. The defendant, William Merideth — of Bullitt County, Kentucky — claimed his neighbor used the drone to spy on Merideth’s family, and worried in particular about his teenage daughter who had been sunbathing in the back yard. The plaintiff and the drone’s owner, David Boggs, said he was flying well above the “ten feet” that Merideth claimed, and taking pictures of a neighbor’s house. Boggs backed this up with flight data that showed the drone at 250 feet and above. (If true, this is actually a pretty impressive distance for Meredith to hit with a shotgun.)
The judge, however, dismissed Boggs’ allegations of wanton endangerment and criminal mischief. She ruled that the drone invaded Merideth’s privacy, and so he had cause to shoot it out of the sky.
Aside from the general recklessness of firing live ammunition knee-jerk style into the air, the decision points to another problem: how the FAA defines drones.
It’s a felony to fire a weapon at an aircraft in U.S. national airspace. And the FAA claims its dominion over drones by defining them as aircraft. So on the surface it would seem to be a felony to shoot a gun at a drone.
The FAA, of course, doesn’t really want to touch this. But if rules don’t get firmed up soon, I can picture a Duck Hunt type of Christmas, with an expected one million drones sold. For now, the FAA only “advises” that you don’t shoot at drones, primarily for the public danger that a falling drone presents, which they assume would be more than a struck duck.
So the question this week: What do you see as the pros and cons of this ruling? Let me know in the comments section. It’s definitely a hot issue, so rant away.
And now, the best drone stories from last week.
A Kentucky judge clears a man charged with shooting down his neighbor’s drone. (Daily Dot)
Google X’s Project Wing announces an ambitious goal of achieving drone delivery by 2017. (Business Insider)
Culture and commentary
Check out our latest podcast, hosted by yours truly: Drones & the Media, with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Matt Waite. Admittedly I’m biased, but Matt is an extremely knowledgeable and entertaining guest. (3DR)
If the Kentucky case has you interested in a chronology of drones in court, here are the five craziest drone arrests, per TechDay.
In this great tutorial, aerial expert Eric Cheng schools you on how to capture artful drone shots. (Gizmodo)
Slate wonders why no civil liberties advocates were named to the FAA’s registration task force. “There are potential civil liberty concerns on both sides of the registration issue: on the one hand, people want to trace privacy violators; on the other, it impinges on spontaneous videography.” Not to mention first-amendment rights.
Researchers at MIT have developed a stereo-vision system that enables drones to fly through thick forest at 30 mph. The algorithms “run 20 times faster than existing software, MIT says, and let the device detect objects like trees and, in real-time, build a map of its flying area. The software operates at 120 frames a second, and was designed to extract depth information at up to 8.3 milliseconds per frame.” (Fast Company)
Swarms of pumpkin-shaped submersible drones (developed at MIT) could help us map the ocean floor — of which only an incredible 5% has been explored. (Quartz)
Literally ????: A fire-starting drone under development at the University of Nebraska could help firefighters with wildfire management, and also has conservation applications. (NBC)
Punts, not guns: In a video that went viral, a teenage rugby player in New Zealand takes a drone down with a punt. He said he’s “stoked” to be an internet celebrity. (stuff.co)
Pumpkins, not punts: In this video, a cannon that fires pumpkins at 200 mph, which for some reason was invented, knocks a drone out of the sky. (Daily Dot)
Drones, not pumpkins: A swarm of bees tries to take down a drone. (SF Gate)
Watch this incredibly successful Shark Tank pitch for a pocket drone that physically incorporates your smart phone as an autopilot. The 12-minute pitch increased the company’s valuation to $6 million. (Fortune)
Last but not least: A sneak peek at some footage from a prototype GoPro drone. (HUH)