Spectator Drones

The news stream has popped out another story today about multiple drones that were observed at the site of a building implosion in Dallas on February 1. The video news report shows approximately 4 quads, DJI Phantoms, and a DJI Inspire 1 hovering close to the building and within the dust plume area. A few of the videos have already shown up on Youtube.

From WFAA in Dallas. Click to image for the source video
From WFAA in Dallas. Click to image for the source video

These stories are becoming quite regular, either because more and more people are finding this fun to do, and possibly because reporting of these incidents get more media attention these days. In either case, it looks like the problem is growing. However just to take to contrary position, let’s ask ourselves if this is a problem or not.

We can safely assume that there are more and more people with quadcopters with cameras, wanting to make that ‘cool’ video for Youtube of noteworthy events. Building implosions attract a lot of spectators, both on the ground, and in the air, however previously the ‘air’ was mostly local news helicopters looking for that same ‘cool’ shot. So I have to ask, ‘What harm have they done?” In the video above, it appears that the drones are mere feet from the building, however some analysis reveals they are no closer than the spectators.

This screen-grab from youtube places this drone approximately 800 feet from the edge of the building. Click the image to see the video.
This screen-grab from youtube allowed me to use google maps to determine this drone was approximately 800 feet from the edge of the building, and approximately 100 ft above the ground. Two other drones were slightly closer, but still not beyond the trees in the foreground. Click the image to see the video.


I also have to ask, what is the level of danger? Explosives and radio transmissions from unwanted sources seems like a bad mix, but in reality, all the demo guys are using high power handheld radios for communications, and their equipment these days is pretty robust against unintentional triggers. There certainly is no danger to the building itself, which is about to be destroyed.

As far as danger to manned aircraft in the sky, at least in this video, a news helicopter was able to observe them, but the long lens of the camera could put the news helicopter up to a couple miles away from the building. Certainly there should be no manned aircraft this close to a building implosion.

Another curious point to make is that with one exception, nobody seems to be complaining about this. After watching dozens of angles of this demo, and seeing ground observers even point out the drones without objection, it would seem that the only one to point it out in a negative way was the local news photographers that made a story out of it. Of course they have desk interviews with ‘experts’ that will make some generic statement about dangers and risks. These people are easy to find.

Certainly there will be situations where there is real danger from having small quadcopters hovering around. Whether it’s a SuperBowl stadium, a crowded concert, or a hostage situation, there will be times where it’s either dangerous or distracting. But there will also be situations where thousands of people are going to show up with cameras, GoPros on sticks, GoPros on quadcopters, loud horns and noisemakers, or other annoyances, and we can’t stop that nor do we need to stop that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>