Leave the drone alone


“Bring your lucky jersey. Bring your face paint. Bring your team spirit. But leave your drone at home.”

The US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recent video reminds gridiron football fans to leave their autonomous flying friends at home if they’re planning on checking into Levi’s Stadium for the Super Bowl on Sunday. While the FAA chose to go with the doubtfully trendable #NoDroneZone (how often do public service announcements gain any traction on social media, anyway?) for the video, its official regulations contain slightly more ominous wording: “The United States government may use deadly force against the [drone].”

Aside from Levi’s Stadium, the US government also threatens robocide should a drone be caught flying above sensitive areas, such as the White House or airports. Here in the UK, drone owners have also landed in hot water for setting them loose over (proper) football stadiums, although police have so far refrained from using “deadly force,” instead resorting to monetary fines.

So where exactly can enthusiasts let their drone flag fly? According to the BBC, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has already drawn up a handful of guidelines, though these are still being refined. They state that drones must be within the “unaided line of sight” of their operators – 500m horizontally and 122m vertically. If the drone is fitted with a camera, it must also be at least 50m away from any person, building, vehicle or structure and 150m away from a congested area or large group of people, such as the aforementioned sporting events, or nearly anywhere in London.

Incidences around the world have caused many governments to impose their own unique legislation regarding drones. After a drone landed on the roof of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office, the City of Tokyo outlawed drones in all of its 81 public parks. The State of California enacted even broader legislation that outlawed the flying of camera-equipped drones above private property in order to address concerns over privacy.

While concerns over public safety and privacy are understandable, the tight regulation surrounding drones splashes cold water on any visions of the future involving our metallic four-winged friends. The idea that these machines could be used to, for example, aid journalists (as they did during the Occupy movement in North America), produce stunning aerial photography (giving us a fresh look of our cities for a lower cost than owning a helicopter) or simply fuel our own laziness by automating more of our daily tasks is actually moving further away each time somebody tweets #NoDroneZone.