The 2015 Christmas shopping season begins in earnest this week. One of the hot items that both children and adults want is a drone. Retailers expect to sell more than 1 million drones to be given as Christmas gifts in the U.S. this year.
Drones can be bought at many electronics, department and hobby stores or through numerous online sources. They can range in prices from under $100 for cheaper versions and into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars for more sophisticated ones. Almost all have some kind of video camera so you can see live time imagery or download and watch on your computer.
Many of the new ones can be controlled by a person’s smart phone. Others have the capability of returning to their home base if its signal is lost or its’ batteries begin to lose their charge.
Battery time needs to be considered when purchasing a drone. An average 90 minute charge time for most models will allow flight time anywhere from a mere 8 minutes to around 30 minutes. That’s really not a whole lot of flight time.
Sure they are neat and fun to fly around at a park or in your yard if it’s big enough. But imagine millions of drones flying around our towns and cities. Flying objects buzzing through your back yard or watching your every move. What a nightmare they could become!
Drones do have some beneficial uses though, such as for military purposes, commercial ventures, aerial photography, use by farmers and ranchers to inspect areas which may not be able to be reached by foot or vehicle.
Even PPL Electric Utilities, the area’s largest energy supplier, with a 29 county area in Pennsylvania currently is getting in to the act. Currently, PPL uses helicopters to inspect its power lines. That is about to change as they have been named among one of the first in the nation to have permission to use drones to inspect power lines. There are rules which they must follow; such as operators must be licensed pilots, drones cannot be flown higher than 400 feet and drones must keep at least 500 feet from people, vehicles and structures.
For all the good deeds drones can accomplish there is also the potential for a lot of shady uses of them for terrorism, by criminals to keep watch for oncoming police and authorities, for corporate spying, for spying on neighbors and filming unauthorized videos and just for plain mischief.
There are some rules and regulations in place but plenty more are on the way. Whether corporate or individual hobbyists follow any of these rules will be interesting to watch. Fines and jail time are both possibilities for those who break the law.
Under current regulations, drone pilots must get clearance to fly within 5 miles of a sizeable airport. Also, drone enthusiasts by law cannot fly their aircraft near Major League Baseball, NFL and NCAA Division I college football games and at major auto races. Any non-government, commercial use of drones must be authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Recent legislation has been proposed for drone manufacturers to implement technology to keep these unmanned aircraft away from airports and events such as parades and major sporting events.
The FAA is also pushing for any drones weighing over half a pound to be registered. This proposed regulation if approved may go into effect before Christmas Day.
So if you receive a drone for Christmas, have fun with it. But be responsible and be aware that there are repercussions if they are used improperly.