What Does The Government Think About That Drone In Your Home?

The world is buzzing about drones right now. Even we’re joining in the fun with some antics of our own. Right now, it is basically a legal free-for all since no one is enforcing regulation, but is that about to change? Should it?

Lets start off by establishing the definition of a “drone”. For this article, we’ll settle for any “unmanned aerial vehicle”, though we can all agree that that limiting this to airspace is fairly restrictive. This is the specific type that are making the news right now and quite possibly catching the eye of people who make the rules.

During my fun exploring the different ways to cause a little mischief by hacking a fairly limited Parrot AR Drone, I met some resistance on user forums from people concerned that I would usher in a new set of legislation restricting the use of drones by weaponizing them. While we all can agree that irresponsible use of dangerous things is bad, the idea that my little taserDrone would garner government attention was laughable.

However, I felt that a little research was necessary into how the FAA feels about drones, since it seems that everyone is putting them in the air.  I found some interesting things. Most notably, the modifications of adding further flight distance and better cameras seems to be the biggest concern for people, and is likely to be the cause of legislation due to privacy issues.

At present, the FAA already has regulation in place for drones and has for some time. To use one above 400 feet, you must be registered with the FAA and issued a certificate, of which they’ve only issued a few hundred. The law also states that you can not use the drone for commercial purposes. This has actually become an issue as one real estate company found out when they started hiring drones to photograph the properties they were listing.

With the swarm on the horizon, the FAA realizes they have to approach this. They’ve created an entire office dedicated to integrating drones into airspace an are actually attempting to loosen up the restrictions for drone use.  Keep in mind, however, that this doesn’t just mean [Joe] next door with his hacked AR Drone, but also the police. This is a big deal to many who already feel like they live in a current state surveillance.  This year the FAA actually had a presence and spoke at the Unmanned Vehicle Systems International trade show in Los Vegas, for the first time in its 39 year run.

So it seems that the prime concerns surrounding drones right now are air safety and privacy. We all know they can be weaponized. We’ve all seen the military drones. Apparently, a gun mounted on a drone is no more scary than a gun on a hip or on a car. What people are more concerned about are prying eyes.  So when I attempt to strap a bottle rocket to my drone, maybe people shouldn’t freak out. Maybe they should actually reconsider strapping that high definition camera to their drone and flying it over their neighborhood.

Then again, this is hackaday. All we ask is that you don’t hurt anyone and try to show a little respect to eachother while you do whatever you want to that thing you OWN.

86 thoughts on “What Does The Government Think About That Drone In Your Home?

    1. If you think you can do it better and cheaper, write them a report on how you’d do it and get them to get you into the team thats working on it. Worst possibility is that you write a useless report, and even then it’d be like reviewing everything you know on drones, so it’s not entirely wasted. Best possibility is that you get paid for hacking together police drones.

    2. You are also misunderstanding the purposes they’re using the drones for: they require the higher quality offered by a slr-type still camera in order to take accurate measurements of skid/yaw marks for vehicle speed calculations etc.

      This is WAY cheaper than getting a full size helicopter out to your scene, not to mention more convenient.

      Also, the $30,000 maximum cost (pre-upfit) doesn’t neccessarily apply to the one in the picture, which looks like a basic model. I understand that the ones deployed in Saskatchewan include gas-powered models which can mount a real-time thermal camera and conduct autonomous grid searches for approx. one hour of flight time for SAR work.

      The guy who sells these to the RCMP operates out of a family farm in southern saskatchewan. If you think you can do it better and cheaper, make up a realistic proposal and get in touch with someone in the organization. In these times of downsizing, there’s nothing the fed. gov. likes better than cheaper.

  1. Law #1 Law enforcement either official or private in any guise shall not use drones.
    Law #2 The murdoch news companies shall not use drones.
    That should cover things for now.

  2. A gun on a drone is a LOT more scary than a gun on a hip, IMO. It means a person could potentially kill someone without anyone witnessing who did it.

    On a sort-of-related topic, I’m a little befuddled at why everything has to be mounted on a tri/quad/hexa/octo-copter. It seems to me that in outdoor/open areas you could get a lot more payload and/or much longer loiter times by using a fixed-wing craft. Copters are great indoors and in tight spaces, but their flight time is pretty miserable. Plus, you can launch a fixed-wing craft from much further (and safer!) distances, for example when filming demonstrations or riots.

    They’re also a lot harder to shoot down with a shotgun :)

      1. @raidscsi Is that you flying the plane? If so, how weird is it to suddenly realize that you’re flying towards yourself? Is the flying self looking the other way, or would you both see each other?

        It has a bit of a ‘Another Earth’ feel to it.

    1. Good point, and in some situations a fixed wing craft would be better. However, I think that these would be used in urban environments where sudden turns and narrow alleys are abundant. In a situation like this it would be hard to get a fixed wing craft where it could get a good view of the location. What I would like to see is something like an osprey style UAV that would have the maneuverability of a quadrocoptor and the speed and range of a fixed wing.

      1. (wish could edit comments) used an old rc car hooked up the leads for the steering to the shutter and remote snapped some stills. were not the best quality but worked fine for me. even got the neighbor sunbathing nude, although you couldnt really make it out. Gave her copies of the pics. she laughed. said she looked like her man.

      1. I once read an article from the turn of the century, with cameras being sent aloft on a kite, using a spring loaded shutter fired by a slow-burning fireworks fuse.

        There’s actually a rather famous picture of San Fransisco after the 1906 earthquake that was taken using a kite.

  3. Any airborne vehicle will have the potential to squash someone or damage property IF it malfunctions. Imposing restrictions just serves to reduce the risk of squashing or damaging. Much like many other regulations. As long as the people involved in the industry / regulation factory apply logical and sensible risk reduction methods then I personally see no problems with regulating the use of UAV’s. As always a fair and balanced approach is key. Few people deliberately set out to squash or damage! But it can happen.

    Flying over populated areas without proper precautions (whatever they may be) is just plain rude.

    To much red tape helps no-one.

    1. We have a lot of private pilots who fly past our home, most are fine, 1500-2000ft or more and fly past on their way somewhere. Every once in a while we get a “stalker”, a plane that circles and flies really low so I ended looking up whats legal.

      In populated areas, you must maintain a minimum 1000ft altitude, and over rural areas, minimum 500ft. This is a FAA rule, and the pilot can lose their license for it. (Just get the tail number and your GPS coordinates with time and report it and that pilot has a really bad day coming up.)

    2. What about a suicide drone bomb? What good does all that security do screening people at a stadium if you can just fly the weapon right into the stadium from the parking lot?

      There’s laws against flying planes near stadiums, so there will and likely should be laws against drones and other RC vehicles flying near them as well.

      1. Can someone tell me how that’s going to prevent some terrorist from actually flying a plane into a stadium? If you’re about to attempt to murder a bunch of people, is a no-drones-near-stadiums law really going to stop you?

  4. This makes me wonder… How would they differentiate a drone from a plain old RC vehicle? Would commercially bought RC planes and helis now be considered UAS and have to follow the same regulations, or would it have to reach a certain criteria? Would someone who owns a hobby shop get in trouble if they decided to show off their products in public? I’m probably over-thinking this or missing something crucial, but…

  5. “unmanned aerial vehicle” is too broad. That would cover any of the tens of thousands of RC planes that have been out there for decades. There are already regulations covering them, and none need to be changed to cover the newer ‘drones’.
    As soon as people start putting brains in the things that let them fly themselves, then yes, we need new regulations on who, how and where they can be flown.
    A small UAV being remotely piloted by a cop is no different from the police helicopters they have been using for a long time, just cheaper to own and fly. So go ahead and let them fly one to follow a car chase, for example. If they start flying them into areas just trolling, looking into back yards to see who’s underage drinking or whatever, then that’s over the top, and needs to be banned unless they have a search warrant.
    Hobby ones don’t need new laws. If you hover your quad outside the neighbors bedroom window taking pictures then your a perv and we already have laws about that.
    Just my thoughts….

      1. You are completely wrong! You have the expectation of privacy if it can’t be seen from public; a cop cannot look over your fence without a warrant, unless he could see probable cause from the street.

      2. Guy here where I live got out of a charge of growing pot because he proved to the court that there was no way that the cop could have seen his patch from the road like he said he could. No probable cause and no case. We still have the right to privacy here unlike California.

    1. I agree that it a RC vehicle is just that, remote controlled; there is somebody watching the thing and directing it.

      When I think of drones I think of copters that fly under their own programmed path, following waypoints, and gathering sensor input.

      They could be like a probe droid from Star Wars, except instead of rebel bases they seek out nudity.

  6. Since the technology exists, it will be abused by some local herp derp cop shop or the next “TOUGHEST SHERIFF IN AMERICA.” Then, because it’s for to be catching of the bad guys, it will be allowed to continue.

    Talk to me about countermeasures.

      1. Those FCC guys know how to ruin a good time.
        … and I was looking forward to some free parts :D

        I would need something much stronger than a shotgun shell for the net launcher to get in the air…
        railgun net launcher?

  7. aerial photography has been around years… I built a fixed wing AP rig almost 10 years ago. The only thing that has changed in 10 years has been the price back then Electric planes where very limited on flight time and batteries where $$$ brush less motors very $$$. They even had gyro boards to help stabilize the plane. It has gotten cheaper and easier to build and fly and kind of RC plane or heli. Attaching stuff was always easy just needed more lift which was a lot more money now it is cheap to add more lift and batteries.


    1. Definitely been around a long time. Remember the Estes 8mm Camroc from the early 70’s? There were a couple of variations of that model. One filmed the entire flightfrom launch until touchdown, and another snapped stills at preset intervals.

  8. Mist nets and filamentous bombs. Water rockets with Dacron fiber in the fuel. Hell even one of those new-years-eve poppers! Cluster dropped from counter air protection. Missile Command!

    1. Water fountains(read: cannons) like they have in front of the Bellagio should be able to down the first generation or two of UAVs, Obviously flying higher and better processing speed/software will negate it eventually. After that harpoon launchers with 50lb fishing line could work. A bit like tying strng to a bumble bee.

  9. As an R/C guy, my only concern is the amount, and the type of people the whole drone buzz has attracted.
    For the most part, the R/C community has been rather cautious about risky things that attract authorities’ attention. This has resulted in a very good safety record and, as a result, many restrictions that existed 10-20 years ago have been dropped. When I was young (in Germany), transmitters for planes still had to be registered!
    To keep new restrictions at bay, pilots want to avoid anything that draws negative attention because there’s always the fear of one idiot fucking it up for everyone.
    Since then, planes have become smaller, lighter and electric and you can now fly models in any backyard, field or parking lot. The threshold to get into this hobby got much lower, which is both good and bad. Also, the line between “kids toys” and “serious toys” (for lack of a better word) is increasingly muddled.
    So what I see (I’ll call it the “GoPro Crowd”) are people who actively seek attention by doing risky/stupid things because suddenly this stuff is cool (this is not unique to this activity though, you can also strap camera’s to yourself and jump off mountains…). These people are selfish and don’t think about how it reflects on others.
    Personally, I think current restrictions are enough (i.e. only line of sight, FPV with a spotter, basically keep it within R/C rules). For commercial, out-of-sight or in populated areas, maybe a license would be a good idea. Keeping your license should be enough incentive for caution.

    Lastly, the least concern for me is the Big Brother scenario. Any government agency will surely get the most expensive system and it won’t work well. Also, they will be too scared to fly them for liability reasons. And if it does happen: “Hey! Flying targets, awesome!”
    Train autonomous quads to target them.

    1. Planes becoming smaller and lighter is very interesting. In 2 or 3decade we went from portable phones that required a dedicated briefcase to devices that are the size and weigh of a small coin.

      Current drones are relatively big and obvious, but what in 10, 20 years, when they are availlable in the size of a wasp? Good luck spotting something that small. Especially in a visualy chaotic enviroment like a park or garden. Add a camera/microphone and privacy will be a thing of the past.

      Add a needle dipped in some garanteed fatal poison and no politician or other public figure will ever be able to step outside a special bunker.

  10. And this is all kinda funny.

    I have had HiDef video with a 75-300 remote/auto focus remote zoom with simple analog broadcast and the twin airsoft side cannons on my Schluter helicopter for years and i only got ooo’s aahh’s and cool’s….

    But i set my ar drone to auto hover aimed at the park so i can monitor my kid while i go get a soda inside and people freak.

  11. I must also point out that any government agency that flys its craft over my home and a flight failure occurs due to any reason.
    I am afraid that although I will return the neighbor’s ball if i have time…. put something that expensive in my back yard and i am most likely keeping it.

    And before i get all the yadda yadda about “you cannot keep gov’t property”
    I challenge anyone in here to get a gov’t UAV in their grubby little hands and freely return it.

  12. As a pilot (in the US), and someone who loves his drones… I’ve got mixed feelings… On one hand, I witnessed a situation where an RC pilot was nabbed by the FBI for flying his plane too close to the airport I was flying out of (I didn’t call it in, someone else did).. Even under the 400ft ceiling..which I am quite thankful is in place since the last thing I want to run into while flying is someones project and end up with it in my lap on the way to the ground in a spiral.. Just to note for those too, there are many classes of airspace… and each with different rules.. Real pilots face serious consequences when they don’t follow the rules (like the guys who wandered into the white house ADIZ), and if the right people find out so do those not sitting in the left seat….as our friend with the RC plane.. Nobody wants a gun pointed at them from a guy in a black suit when they’re out for a weekend of fun. Just keep in mind we have to share the skies… I keep my drones under 400 feet and away from airports… But I know how tempting it is, even if you think that you’re in a rural area and there’s no air traffic and it’s sparsely populated… The rules are there for a reason.. Hopefully something changes so we can fly our drones above 400ft some day… but that’ll probably include some sort of certification…

  13. This has actually become an issue as one real estate company _found out when they started hiring drones_ to photograph the properties they were listing.

    This link is broken. Can you repost?

  14. well if you think of it drones can be preprogrammed and merely receive GPS signals (so they are not actively transmiting anything at all and can’t be located).Now all you need to do is to modify arduplane code to actuate an RC servo and drop a small incediary device at X waypoint and you’ve got an awesome weapon

    the police will never find you unless you fck up something really bad…

  15. The thing is that with a little bit of know how and some practical skills you can pretty much build any kind of weapon from any piece of technology. The only real way to stop a misuse of something is to better educate people on how not to use something, we’ve done it for years with Fire, electricity, sharp objects etc

    Drones and the technology behind it is at the point were it’s just a matter of ordering parts and putting it together to have a auto piloted unit. Sure it takes time and money, but it’s not that hard. They’re also not very hard to spot/hear and knock out of the sky or jam their signals so it just falls and crashes somewhere out of harms way.

    I think in the end if you make a point to point out how you can use it as a weapon someone will eventually think ‘hey now you mention it, that would make a great weapon’ and do it.

    I get a real buzz out of the cool things people keep doing with tech like autopilot systems and building drones. The stuff they’re made of has been around for a while now, but with some out of the box thinking spawned something awesome if we were constantly afraid of what could happen we would never move forward.

    So chill, have a beer and build a drone and do something cool with it. I know i will.
    Hey you could even build a hunter drone killer drone, whatever floats your boat ^_^… or sinks it.

  16. i vote do not make videos weaponizing UAV’s

    you are a major webiste that has 1000’s of viewers on a daily basis.

    it is people like you that will get the FAA to put the ban hammer down on them if you keep doing stuff like this.

    of course there are a privacy issue about cameras but no one really gives a crap

    when you can attack remotely and from the air that is a whole other story.
    you are a bad person for doing this imho

    what are you going to do when someone that attacks someone and injures or hurts a person and says “i got the idea from hackaday”
    lol be prepared for a lawsuit

  17. passerby,

    I also am an active full-scale pilot and UAV enthusiast. I feel that the 400 foot rule is uncalled for, and is just a quick fix suggested by one of those FAA folks. The real line (at least for planes under 10 pounds or so) should be Class G Airspace and 4 miles from the nearest airport. Small UAVs fit perfectly into what Class Golf was designed for: a region of airspace for non-participants in the regular controlled flight system. Hang-gliders, paragliders, ultralights, sailplanes, and powered-parasails get to hang out in Class G unrestricted, why not small UAVs? Don’t accept an arbitrary limit when it isn’t a fair one.


    1. It’s actually 3 miles… Anyone operating in class G still has a certificate, a radio where they communicate position information to each other to avoid collision, etc. etc…. also, the 400ft limit has been in place for a long long time..not just recently.. I think some people think this 400ft limit is a knee jerk reaction to the drone craze….we shouldn’t be flattering ourselves that way and making assumptions… Take a look at the FAA regulations on their site.

  18. Mini Maker Fair in Montreal last week had to get clearance to fly a bunch of audro-copters around Olympic Stadium. I suppose there is a bit of relief that the city and whatever other authorities gave them permission to fly outdoors.

    Lots of them got to try flying outside for the first time.

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