Saturday, May 17, 2014

Some Regulations for Drones

Consumer-level drones are in the news a lot these days. Industries, such as agriculture and film-making, are using them, even though the FAA says commercial uses are prohibited, pending formulation of regulations for them.

Drones offer lots of potential but also plenty of reasons for concern. I have a few thoughts for steps to controlling them.
  • Drones should be licensed with serial numbers.
  • Drones should transmit their location to a registry. If secrecy is required, then that is an option, but requires a special permit and incremental fee. In that case, they still transmit, but the registry is not publicly viewable (but is there if needed by law enforcement, or in the case of liability).
  • Drones should come with governors. The governors would control things like altitude, and distance, putting a ceiling on human error, as much as possible.
  • Defeating the governors should be a severe, possibly criminal, infraction.
  • Stating the obvious--it should be a criminal offense to equip a drone with any form of weaponry.
  • Law enforcement may enforce drone licensing comparable to driver's licenses.  
I think society would be well-advised to start getting this figured out, before it becomes an entrenched right or fact on the ground, like gun rights or using cell phones in cars.

UPDATE 07/20/15: Dave Winer put it well...I can't find the quote at the moment, but to the effect that drones disrupt basic human assumptions about spatial liberty and safety.

UPDATE 07/20/15: This account of drones (unintentionally) interfering with firefighting aircraft, resulting in the loss of ~20 cars and risk of worse, is a good example.


  1. As a drone owner...

    I think you're pretty heavy handed about the regulations. Of course, it's only a matter of time before some idiot causes a major disaster with his/her drone. I'm OK with registration and licensing. I'm not OK with location transmission.

    My three pound drone can go over 1500 feet high at a distance of 1.25 miles moving at 30 mph, all the while transmitting video in 1080p HD. However, just because I own a "Ferrari" doesn't mean that I get to push its performance, especially in controlled airspace (i.e., within 30 nm of MSP). In uncontrolled airspace, aircraft use pretty common sense rules. Drone pilots have the same responsibilities.

    By the way, local law enforcement has no jurisdiction over airspace enforcement, although they could cite someone on disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct for misusing the drone to annoy or interfere with the privacy of others.

  2. Also, the FAA jurisdiction over commercial uses was recently overruled in a court ruling a few weeks back.