Category Archives: Flight Diaries

America already lost the drone race to a Japanese farm in the 1980s

The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for Read the whole story here.

Photo/Sally French
Photo/Sally French

Whenever someone approaches me as I’m flying a drone, the first thing they ask is, “so, are you trying to spy on someone?”

Every time.

And every time, my answer is no. Unlike your surprisingly stealthy iPhone camera, drones are too large to not see. They’re also too loud to not hear. Have you heard one? They sound like a pack of bees.

“New innovation is often feared, because innovation challenges the status quo,” said Lisa Ellman, who formerly led the Justice Department’s working group on domestic use of drones and who is counsel at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.

2014 is the year America was struck by ‘Drone Fever’: we have a rapidly growing group of creative engineers, artists, scientists and businesspeople who want to use drones to make their work smarter and more efficient. Then we have a vocal group of people who protest drones over privacy concerns. And we have policy makers, who are trying, and failing, to sort it all out.

The responsibility of responding to privacy concerns has, by default, fallen on the Federal Aviation Administration, the group tasked with issuing regulations as to how commercial drones could operate in the U.S.

But the already bureaucratic FAA doesn’t have the expertise to solve privacy concerns, and has historically only been involved in the safety side of aviation.

”The FAA has no jurisdiction or inclination to worry about privacy,” Ellman said.

Because of so much outcry over privacy, the FAA has implemented legislation that has been flawed and outdated. Commercial use of drones is completely banned, unless you file for a Section 333 petition with the Federal Aviation Administration, which usually takes a neither speedy, nor efficient, 120-days to process from the time you file to when it’s approved.

Translation: the government makes it really hard to legally make money off flying your drone.

That’s a problem for people like me and the thousands of other Americans who own a drone (or will get one for Christmas this year) and want to use it to take pictures, or for real estate agents who want to show off large parcels of land, or for farmers who want to survey their crops. Japan has been using drones for crop-dusting since 1987.

For a country that places so much value on innovation, why does the U.S. allow policy that clearly impedes it?

Drones certainly bring privacy issues. One real estate agent used pictures taken by a drone to market a property without realizing they included images of a neighbor sunbathing, topless, in her backyard.

And celebrities worry that paparazzi will use drones to sneak photographs.

“Drone Pap wtf,” Miley Cyrus once posted on her Instagram.

Drone Pap wtf

A video posted by Miley Cyrus (@mileycyrus) on Jul 7, 2014 at 8:17pm PDT

But those privacy concerns apply just as much to someone with a telephoto lens, satellite views such as Google Earth, or a camera on a helicopter.

“There’s enough framework that already exists in government, enough of a framework to legally protect yourself,” said Gretchen West, former executive vice president of drone lobby group AUVSI. “‘Peeping Tom’ laws exist already.

Instead of solving the safety concerns that come with drones, such as addressing technical failures or sorting out flight patterns when multiple drones are flying in the same region, the FAA is wrapped in a box of trying to fix all the world’s drone worries.

In doing that, the FAA keeps messing up.

In the latest ruling in the Huerta v. Pirker case, the National Transportation Safety Board reversed a judge’s ruling against the FAA that drone operator Raphael Pirker shouldn’t have to pay a fine for reckless flying.

It seems to be an issue of word choice. Ellman says there is an unclear differentiation between what’s “prohibited” vs what’s “unregulated.”

The FAA has wanted to require drone operators to have a pilot’s license, a time-consuming and expensive process.

“There is a general community concern that requiring a pilot’s license to fly a drone is a bit excessive,” said Helen Greiner, chief executive of CyPhy Works Inc. and co-founder of iRobot. “Requiring a pilot’s license for drone operators does not make sense. Flying a plane is not like flying a drone.”

She said that drone operators would benefit from the ground-school classes that teaches about airspace.

“But we can now program this knowledge into the drones…which is better than depending on a pilot to look it up for each flight.”

She also said that the FAA’s requirement that drones operate only during the day is also a bit short-sighted.


Want to write for Drone Girl? I want your submissions!

Surely you have feelings about drones, and we want you to share them here!

Drone Girl is now accepting article submissions so you can get your voice heard! Maybe you’ve talked your families’ ears off about the wondrous things a drone can do, or perhaps you’ve found some awesome drone video that must be shared.

Here's a selfie of Drone Girl! If you join our team, we'll share your drone selfies too!
Here’s a selfie of Drone Girl! If you join our team, we’ll share your drone selfies too!

Maybe you just want to post once, or maybe you’d like to post once a week. Either way, I want more voices on Drone Girl (you don’t have to own a drone, and you don’t have to be a girl…you just have to write riveting content about drones)! Send me a message with the subject line DG Reader Submission and let’s chat about posting it here!

Here are some ideas of posts I would love to see:

  • Product Reviews
  • Top Photos
  • Flying Tips
  • How-To’s
  • Drone News Commentary

They can be serious or silly, filled with GIFs or packed with powerful prose. Either way, if you are interested in joining the Drone Girl team, then I’m interested in hearing from you!

5 unlikely celebrities who have a drone

Photo: Jefferson Graham/USA Today
Photo: Jefferson Graham/USA Today

1. Martha Stewart

Not only does she cook and decorate, Martha Stewart also has said that she flies drones. She has said in various media interviews that she flies a Parrot AR Drone 2.0, which she uses to photograph her property.

Talk about a must-have accessory.

“I like to see aerial views of my properties, at different different times of the year. Right now, with the autumnal colors, it’s really pretty,” she told USA Today.

Read an editorial she wrote for Time Magazine on her drone.

2. Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and C.E.O. of News Corporation, tweeted out that he was trying out a DJI Phantom drone. The tweet was sent Oct. 27, 2014 from Laguna Beach, California, where Murdoch was attending a Wall Street Journal tech conference.

3.  Jorja Fox Actress Jorja Fox, who played Dr. Maggie Doyle on ER and now plays Sara Sidle in CSI: Crime Scene Investigtion, wrote on her Facebook page that she bought a drone with the intent of putting them to good use.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.03.24 PM
4. Katie Linendoll
ESPN host Katie Linendoll also has a drone. She’s blogged about her use here. Talk about the best Valentine’s gift EVER.
Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.05.04 PM

5. Jamie Hyneman and Adam Salvage

The Mythbusters stars have said they have used drones in the production of the show, including in opening shots and for a recent episode shot at Pebble Beach.

DJI Evolution Inspire Launch November 12th, 2014


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The four kinds of drone geeks

This post was originally written by me for Read the entire, original version of the story there.

I was one credit away from graduating college when I first learned what a drone was. It’s not just something for the military, and it’s not something far off in the future.

It’s actually something you can buy for a few hundred dollars at Brookstone or B&H Photo, and it’s something that college campuses are turning into curriculum.

To graduate, I audited a course for one credit on drone journalism. That’s a course where they teach how newsrooms will one day all have drones to take pictures or gather news information from the air.

Media often portrays this new wave of drones as a mechanism of tracking endangered rhinos or shooting Hollywood films. But when I moved from rural Missouri to San Francisco, I found that drones weren’t actually that uncommon. For a growing number of people, they’re a way of life.

They fly over outdoor concerts. Two friends texted me that they saw a drone flying over this year’s commencement ceremony at UC Berkeley. I’ve spotted one outside my apartment complex. Drones are becoming more ubiquitous and easy to spot; the key is finding the operator behind it.

So who is flying them? Like most areas of tech, the drone industry is overwhelmingly male. And many people have different reasons for using a drone. If there was a Breakfast Club sequel solely for drones, this would be the cast.

The tinkerer. He’s an avid participator on a forum for RC enthusiasts. He built his drone himself in a garage using some PVC pipes and an Arduino. He probably belongs to a model RC club and flies it above the high school track on weekends to test out his latest build.

That guy with too much money. He wants a Tesla. He camped out in front of the Apple Store for an iPhone. Now he flies a drone. He’s the guy who foregoes the camera-with-a-timer-on-a-tripod trick to take family photos. His Christmas card picture was taken with a drone. After he finishes his sand volleyball tournament, he goes to take some pictures of the beach, using a drone of course.

The entrepreneur. He has a million ideas for a new startup that involves a drone. Beer delivery? Dry cleaning delivery? Taco delivery? His investment cost was no more than the $1000 price tag on a drone. Perhaps one day his business will be worth as much as Snapchat.

This story continues on Read it here.

Merry Christmas from Drone Girl!

Thanks to you, our readers, for a great year of learning, researching and of course, drone flying!  Have a safe and happy holidays, and perhaps you can even spend this day flying your drones!


Thanks to reader Davis Hunt for sharing this photo, taken by Instagrammer thorvath0715.

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Flying robots for the masses: How Bezos’ Amazon Drone could be what Steve Jobs was to personal computers

jeffbezosIt’s unrealistic to assume that once 2015 hits, Amazon Drones will take off through the skies, single-handedly bringing a stop to brown UPS trucks.

But when they do take off, it won’t just be Amazon’s drones doing home delivery. Soon enough, Walmart will have a fleet of drones. Target too. Domino’s kinda sorta already has one. Even UPS quickly followed Amazon’s big reveal, reminding the world that they too are working on delivery drones.

Amazon will undoubtedly deliver packages via drones, and I’m sure it’ll happen in our lifetime. But will they corner the market in drone deliveries? Doubt it.

Where Amazon can in fact corner the market is in drone manufacturing. If this all plans out, I predict Amazon will move from enterprise (drone delivery) to manufacturing Amazon-brand drones that consumers can use themselves.

How will Amazon succeed at manufacturing consumer-level drones? Amazon has the brand recognition and economy of scale to undercut current drone makers if they wanted to be a part of the consumer-drone manufacturing market. Look at Kindle. Or purely the fact that with just a short clip on 60 Minutes, they convinced the world of the possible reality of flying packages. Continue reading Flying robots for the masses: How Bezos’ Amazon Drone could be what Steve Jobs was to personal computers