Look up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane… no, it’s a drone. Perhaps you’ve heard the news: drones are the high-powered tech-toys of the future. Imagine these buzzing gizmos flying unmanned missions to deliver pizzas. Or companies using drones instead of shipping services to drop merchandise right to your doorstep.
Whether or not the brave new world of drone technology comes to fruition is anyone’s guess. Will drones be a revolutionary game changer or just another fad? Only time will tell.
Long associated with military operations, today drones are a permanent part of our recreational airspace. Hobbyists are piloting the controls and mastering the art of unmanned flight. Drones were one of the hottest holiday gifts in 2015, and according to the U.S. Consumer Electronics Association, the flying machines are poised to become a multibillion-dollar industry by 2018. From flying tips to shopping recommendations, here’s everything you need to know about owning a drone.
What is a Drone?
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) controlled by a remote. They’re one of the most advanced modern technologies in the field of robotics, aeronautics and electronics. Drones come in numerous shapes, sizes and weights.
Drones are currently used in a variety of ways. They were first used by the military to conduct operations in which manned flight was considered dangerous. These days, drones are employed to assist in weather analysis, agricultural mapping, police surveillance, construction and real estate inspection, search and rescue operations, and mineral prospecting.
The use of drones has evolved in recent years. Their professional services are no longer limited to providing intelligence, tactical support or stealth military operations. Unmanned aerial vehicles are now a high-tech form of leisure and recreation, the 21st century equivalent of remote controls cars and planes. Hobbyists build and collect drones, and kids fly them in parks and backyards. According to SkyPixel, an online community for drone enthusiasts, more than 75 percent of drone owners use them for photography, while nearly 60 percent use drones for filmmaking.
How to Fly a Drone
Learning to fly a drone is just like learning to ride a bike. Okay, the two have little in common other than the fact you crash a lot at the beginning. Falling off a bike and scraping a knee or elbow is a lot different than getting a drone tangled in electrical wires or crashing one into the front lawn of the White House. Key elements to flying an unmanned aerial vehicle include the following:
Read the Directions, and Take it Slow. Flying a drone may seem easy, like a combination between playing video games and driving a remote control car. However, the controls are much more difficult to use than they appear. Operators have lost control of their drones and been charged with reckless endangerment, and have even had their drones fly off and get lost. Before you take to the air, read the directions.
Positional Awareness. You need to know where your drone is at all times. In June 2014, pilots reported 25 near collisions with unmanned aerial vehicles in a four-day period at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules and regulations, a drone can’t be flown above 400 feet. Just make sure you always keep it within your line of physical site.
No Fly Zones. Don’t fly your drone near airports, landmarks, military bases or national parks. You should also avoid flying near schools, stadiums, government buildings and densely populated areas. If you live in a community, ask your homeowner’s association if they have any rules in place regarding drones. Before you take to the friendly skies, make sure the skies are really friendly; check with local or state officials to make sure you’re not breaking any laws.
Flight Times and Weather Conditions. According to FAA regulations, drones can’t be flown at night and shouldn’t be flown in hazardous conditions. It’s best to fly your drone on calm, clear days. Drones are designed to be light, so the slightest breeze can wreck havoc and cause an accident.
Drones Must be Registered. As of 2015, all drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds need to be registered with the FAA. Failure to register a drone can result in penalties up to $250,000 and possible jail time. Similar to driving, drone operators need to take an FAA test in order to get a permit to fly a drone.
The Best Drones Under $200
Five years ago, drone hobbyists couldn’t buy a drone in a store. They needed to build the aerial machine with a DIY kit containing motors and controller circuit boards. It was an expensive hobby, and one that took a high level of skill. Today, the market for drones is soaring, and you can purchase one almost anywhere, from Amazon to HobbyKing. Whether you’re a backyard beginner or a seasoned pilot, there are several inexpensive drones available. Here are some of the best drones under $200.
Before you purchase a drone, consider the following questions:
- What are your reasons for buying a drone?
- What features do you need?
- What’s your budget?
Drones and Privacy
The age of data theft and spyware has created privacy and safety concerns around civilian drones. Most drones are equipped with cameras and other imaging equipment, making persistent aerial surveillance a reality. In other words, it’s easy to see how a recreational toy can become a tool of cyber espionage. In 2015, the FAA made it illegal for operators to take group photographs with their drones.
As the use of civilian drones becomes more commonplace, it may become increasingly difficult to protect privacy without preempting technological innovation. As a drone enthusiast, you need to be responsible and respectful of peoples’ rights. The rules and regulations concerning civilian drone use are constantly changing, and as a drone operator, you need to keep up with the changes. In fact, in some cities, towns, and communities the popularity of drones is outpacing the rules.
Will the skies in the future really be filled with thousands of buzzing drones? Will the packages you order from Amazon really be delivered to your doorstop by an unmanned aerial vehicle? Maybe. Maybe not. Right now, drones are experiencing their time in the sun. Gadget lovers can’t get enough of the high-tech toys. Sit back, take the controls, and watch that speeding quadcopter get airborne.