[Marxism] Drones Set Sights on U.S. Skies
giobon at comcast.net
Sat Feb 18 14:12:31 MST 2012
Drones Set Sights on U.S. Skies
By NICK WINGFIELD and SOMINI SENGUPTA
February 17, 2012
WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. — Daniel Gárate’s career came crashing to
earth a few weeks ago. That’s when the Los Angeles Police Department
warned local real estate agents not to hire photographers like Mr.
Gárate, who was helping sell luxury property by using a drone to
shoot sumptuous aerial movies. Flying drones for commercial purposes,
the police said, violated federal aviation rules.
“I was paying the bills with this,” said Mr. Gárate, who recently
gave an unpaid demonstration of his drone in this Southern California
His career will soon get back on track. A new federal law, signed by
the president on Tuesday, compels the Federal Aviation Administration
to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors —
from selling real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil spills
and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood films. Local police and
emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones.
But while businesses, and drone manufacturers especially, are
celebrating the opening of the skies to these unmanned aerial
vehicles, the law raises new worries about how much detail the drones
will capture about lives down below — and what will be done with that
information. Safety concerns like midair collisions and property
damage on the ground are also an issue.
American courts have generally permitted surveillance of private
property from public airspace. But scholars of privacy law expect
that the likely proliferation of drones will force Americans to re-
examine how much surveillance they are comfortable with.
“As privacy law stands today, you don’t have a reasonable expectation
of privacy while out in public, nor almost anywhere visible from a
public vantage,” said Ryan Calo, director of privacy and robotics at
the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University. “I don’t
think this doctrine makes sense, and I think the widespread
availability of drones will drive home why to lawmakers, courts and
Some questions likely to come up: Can a drone flying over a house
pick up heat from a lamp used to grow marijuana inside, or take
pictures from outside someone’s third-floor fire escape? Can images
taken from a drone be sold to a third party, and how long can they be
Drone proponents say the privacy concerns are overblown. Randy
McDaniel, chief deputy of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department
in Conroe, Tex., near Houston, whose agency bought a drone to use for
various law enforcement operations, dismissed worries about
surveillance, saying everyone everywhere can be photographed with
cellphone cameras anyway. “We don’t spy on people,” he said. “We
worry about criminal elements.”
Still, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups
are calling for new protections against what the A.C.L.U. has said
could be “routine aerial surveillance of American life.”
Under the new law, within 90 days, the F.A.A. must allow police and
first responders to fly drones under 4.4 pounds, as long as they keep
them under an altitude of 400 feet and meet other requirements. The
agency must also allow for “the safe integration” of all kinds of
drones into American airspace, including those for commercial uses,
by Sept. 30, 2015. And it must come up with a plan for certifying
operators and handling airspace safety issues, among other rules.
The new law, part of a broader financing bill for the F.A.A., came
after intense lobbying by drone makers and potential customers.
The agency probably will not be making privacy rules for drones.
Although federal law until now had prohibited drones except for
recreational use or for some waiver-specific law enforcement
purposes, the agency has issued only warnings, never penalties, for
unauthorized uses, a spokeswoman said. The agency was reviewing the
law’s language, the spokeswoman said.
For drone makers, the change in the law comes at a particularly good
time. With the winding-down of the war in Afghanistan, where drones
have been used to gather intelligence and fire missiles, these
manufacturers have been awaiting lucrative new opportunities at home.
The market for drones is valued at $5.9 billion and is expected to
double in the next decade, according to industry figures. Drones can
cost millions of dollars for the most sophisticated varieties to as
little as $300 for one that can be piloted from an iPhone.
“We see a huge potential market,” said Ben Gielow of the Association
for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone maker trade group.
For Patrick Egan, who represents small businesses and others in his
work for the Remote Control Aerial Photography Association in
Sacramento, the new law also can’t come fast enough. Until 2007, when
the federal agency began warning against nonrecreational use of
drones, he made up to $2,000 an hour using a drone to photograph
crops for farmers, helping them spot irrigation leaks. “I’ve got
organic farmers screaming for me to come out,” he said.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department in Texas bought its 50-
pound drone in October from Vanguard Defense Industries, a company
founded by Michael Buscher, who built drones for the army, and then
sold them to an oil company whose ships were threatened by pirates in
the Gulf of Aden. The company custom-built the drone, which takes
pictures by day and senses heat sources at night. It cost $300,000, a
fraction of the cost of a helicopter.
Mr. McDaniel said his SWAT team could use it for reconnaissance, or
to manage road traffic after a big accident. He said he regretted
that he didn’t have it a few months ago, to search for a missing
person in a densely wooded area.
Mr. Buscher, meanwhile, said he was negotiating with several police
agencies. “There is tremendous potential,” he said. “We see agencies
dipping their toes.”
The possibilities for drones appear limitless. Last year, Cy Brown of
Bunkie, La., began hunting feral pigs at night by outfitting a model
airplane with a heat-sensing camera that soared around his brother’s
rice farm, feeding live aerial images of the pigs to Mr. Brown on the
ground. Mr. Brown relayed the pigs’ locations by radio to a friend
with a shotgun.
He calls his plane the Dehogaflier, and says it saves him time
wandering in the muck looking for skittish pigs. “Now you can know in
15 minutes if it’s worth going out,” said Mr. Brown, an electrical
Earlier this month, in Woodland Hills, Mr. Gárate, the photographer,
demonstrated his drone by flicking a hand-held joystick and sending
the $5,000 machine hovering high above a tennis court. A camera
beneath the drone recorded lush, high-definition video of the
Bill Kerbox, a real estate agent in Malibu who hired Mr. Gárate for
several shoots before the L.A.P.D. crackdown, said that aerial video
had helped him stand out from his competitors, and that the loss of
it had been painful.
Mr. Gárate, for now, plans to work mainly in his native Peru, where
he has used his drone to shoot commercials for banks. He said he was
approached by paparazzi last year about filming the reality
television star Kim Kardashian’s wedding using a drone, but turned
down the offer. “Maybe the F.A.A. should give a driver’s license for
this, with a flight test,” he said. “Do a background check to make
sure I’m not a terrorist.”
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