Wick Communications

Drones aren’t just for military

In Photography on 5 Jul 2012 at 4:17 pm

Photo: Charles Russo / Half Moon Bay Review

Like it or not, drones are coming to the airspace near you. I’m talking about flying machines similar in many ways to the ones used in the international hunt for terrorists. Instead of guns, the things you will soon see buzzing overhead will be carrying cameras capable of beautiful aerial shots … and spying on your backyard pool party.

That last possibility has many people worried and there is a flurry of activity designed to regulate these things. (The whole issue came to light here in Half Moon Bay when we did a feature on a local coffee shop manager who flies the contraption you see in the accompanying photograph.)

As Review photographer Charlie Russo notes, these things have the potential to revolutionize news photography. Imagine strapping a camera to one of these things and swooping over the downtown parade, or sending it to the scene of a police standoff, or hovering over the local high school football game. Imagine the paparazzi using them to harass celebrities. Wait till Alec Baldwin gets a load of this!

Google tells me that a Reaper drone carrying Hellfire missiles would run you about $28 million. (By the way, Congress has spent $11.8 billion on these things so far.) On the other hand, you can have one of these babies delivered to your front door for $279.

There seems to be some debate about whether they are legal for private use at the moment. The L.A. Times states flatly in its most recent story that they are not legal. The industry has a more nuanced view. …

It is certainly conceivable that they will be under Christmas trees and buzzing overhead some day soon. It wouldn’t surprise me if they one day become standard in every newsroom. Perhaps we should take bets on which of us is first to use a drone to get photos for our community newspaper.

Before then we will have to make some crucial decisions on how to use them. I think we can apply existing law and some common sense. While news helicopters have been buzzing private homes for live feeds for years, I would be more careful. I would balance potential privacy loss against the public good of using the technology. I wouldn’t use a drone to take a photo of someone’s backyard wedding. And I would recognize the difference between public figures and private citizens.

I expect this topic to heat up in the next few months.




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