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Question of the week

Admittedly, the rhetoric of drone rights advocacy sometimes does coincide with Second Amendment rights advocacy — “the responsibility lies with the user,” etc. But recently the two have collided violently. This week a Kentucky man shot down his neighbor’s drone, claiming a trespassing violation. He was quickly arrested and charged with two crimes. It doesn’t appear that the drone was in fact trespassing at the time it was shot down — but you can read more about that in the articles below.

Existing privacy laws are already in place that we can apply to drones: Trespassing is one, as are other torts, such as widely adopted “intrusion upon seclusion” and “nuisance” laws. But because drones represent an apparently radical shift in camera and surveillance technology (a shift that’s actually been happening for quite some time now), and because they’re so nimble and might be hard to track, many think we need drone-specific legislation to regulate them. Such legislation has now been introduced on local, state and federal levels.

But do we need new laws that specifically address drones? (Or for that matter, any aerial or highly mobile camera device.) Is this technology substantially different that it merits a new classification? What would those laws even look like?

I’m honestly curious. I have my opinions, but am ultimately unsure if or where the law should intercede here. I’d like to hear what you think — let’s have a discussion in the comments below.

And now, the news.

Headlines

A Kentucky man faces charges of first degree criminal mischief and first degree wanton endangerment after shooting down a neighbor’s drone. Mr. Meredith claimed the drone was “trespassing” and he suspected his neighbors were using it to spy on his daughter, who was sunbathing at the time. Beyond local criminal law, the FAA forbids the use of weapons to bring down aircraft in the National Airspace because the uncontrolled descent could endanger people and property. (BBC)

But a journalist has reviewed the logs from that flight and determined that the downed drone was flying nowhere near where Meredith claimed it was. (Ars Technica)

Facebook plans to use its solar-powered Aquila drone to deliver the internet with lasers. Aquila has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs less than 1,000 pounds. The social network plans to begin test flights this year. (Christian Science Monitor)

Following Pakistan’s claim that it shot down an Indian “spy drone,” which turned out to be a DJI Phantom, China has put strict restrictions on drone exports. Ironically, the restrictions won’t apply to Phantoms, but to larger drones that can fly over an hour and at extremely high altitudes. (BBC)

Pilots reportedly sighted multiple drones flying near JFK Airport this weekend. Please: Don’t fly your drones over 400 feet or near airports. It’s dangerous and it’s illegal. (ABC)

San Bernadino county officials are offering a $75,000 reward for information about anyone flying drones that interfere with firefighting operations. (LA Times)

Police in Georgia may or may not have invested in a drone to help in police and rescue operations. Olaeris, the drone maker, claims they’ve signed a $5.7 million dollar five-year contract; the county says that statement is an error and negotiations have ceased. (Popular Science)

Drones for good

Turns out there’s beauty in asymmetry, too: Indigenous people in remote and poor areas can use drones to establish property rights and prove encroachment from entities like mining and logging companies. Drones, cheap and powerful, are an “asymmetrical” technology that through frequent and accurate data collection can empower communities that previously couldn’t represent themselves legally. And because DIY kits can be assembled by and in the communities themselves, indigenous residents will also have an important sense of ownership and participation, vis a vis an imposition from an outside actor. (Time)

In India, drones may soon be saving people from wild animal attacks. These attacks — from tigers and elephants and the like — have lately been on the rise. (International Business News)

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have been using a 3DR Aero to test drone delivery of blood samples. The tests found that the blood samples weren’t affected by a 40-minute delivery — neither the altitude nor the landing seemed to result in any abnormalities. Drone delivery holds promise for remote areas, especially in developing countries, where the nearest clinics are sometimes 60 miles from villages, over rough terrain. (Business Journal)

In the wake of a successful medicine delivery, Wise County, Virginia, is now eyeing more drone delivery options for its isolated rural residents, including medicine from pharmacies and food from grocery stores. (WDBJ)

NASA is developing drones that could one day fly on Mars and the moon. Mars rovers can only access so much of the variegated terrain, and drones can get data where they can’t. On the moon they’ll fly into lava tubes on the surface and explore extinct volcanoes, features that might one day shelter astronauts. The drones would also serve as prospectors, sniffing out water, minerals and other substances. To fly in the thin atmosphere the drones will use cold-gas jets instead of propellers. (Quartz)

High tech

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the promise of tethered drones, which could deliver virtually endless flight times: “It’s like having a near-Earth satellite.”

A buggy drone could one day be a good thing: Researchers are experimenting with using miniature artificial eyes inspired by insect vision to help drones navigate congested spaces and avoid collisions. “Flying bugs avoid collisions thanks to tiny eyes that have low spatial resolution but are highly sensitive to changes in the way light is reflected as the insect moves, or due to the movement of an object in its field of view. This new sensor weighs only two milligrams and takes up only two cubic millimeters, and can detect motion in conditions ranging from a poorly lit room to very bright sunlight outdoors — three times faster than fast flying insects.” (MIT Review)

SkyFund, an investment fund managed by DJI and Accel, announced its first investment: DroneBase, a service that plans to rent out drones and pilots to businesses. The amount wasn’t disclosed, but SkyFund was developed to make “$250,000+” investments. (TechCrunch)

Culture and commentary

In a publicity stunt for the upcoming Fantastic 4 movie, a viral video company flew a flaming Human Torch drone in New York. The stunt was carefully planned, and took place at Nassau County’s Fire Service Academy with 10 firefighters on hand with access to trucks and water. (AdWeek)

Last week NASA hosted a summit on UAS traffic management (UTM), inviting contributions and ideas from a broad range of industries. (NASA)

Insurance companies are backing away from — and not backing — drones, due to concerns about privacy law. “Most companies currently offering insurance policies for commercial drone use exclude privacy claims due to lack of data, uncertainty over how drones work and how legislation protecting privacy from drone surveillance will behave toward violators.” (Insurance Business America)

At NASA’s UTM summit, Amazon proposed that a stratified sky could provide commercial drones with a safe space to navigate. Aside from Amazon and Google, other companies will benefit — here’s an analysis. (Inc)

Google put forth a competing airspace management strategy for drones. The head of the company’s Project Wing drone delivery system proposed last week that the responsibility of regulating the airspace below 500 feet be taken out of the FAA’s hands and put with private entities dubbed “airspace service providers.” (Computerworld)

Bro, you were flying, like, so high. A California company wants to use drones to deliver boxes of weed. And yes, you can pay with bitcoin. (Popular Science)

Photo and video

The Dead Sea — which has the highest salt content of any large body of water on the planet — has been shrinking for years. Check out this great drone footage of the Dali-like wasteland.

Watch the Human Torch drone in action. (Mashable)

A great photo of a family of Orcas off the coast of Vancouver. My mom loves whales, okay? (Gizmodo)