Flight Plan: Charting a Course for Drones

2014 ,    »  -   11 Comments
Ratings: 7.31/10 from 35 users.

While the drones being used in military settings might draw the big headlines, this is not the sole application of a technology that is quickly developing into one that is raising countless point of debate on the domestic front as well. Flight Plan: Charting a Course for Drones is a Washington State Public Affairs Network documentary exploration of how these concerns are making their way through the region, and the effect civilian drone flight has on the every-present issue of privacy in America.

The film first looks at hobby drone flight - filmmakers and videographers shooting purely to explore (mostly rural) areas from a new and exciting vantage point. Prices range on fully remote controlled rigs from as little as $400 to upwards of $3000, with possibilities for spending more on "souping up" the aircraft being endless. The Federal Aviation Administration currently requires the following of a drone flight for it to be considered of the "hobby" variety, and not subject to commercial FAA regulation:

  • Flight must remain under 400 feet,
  • Flight cannot take place inside five miles from an airport,
  • The aircraft must remain within the line of sight of the operator at all times,
  • The aircraft needs to weigh less than 55 pounds,
  • Flight cannot be for any "commercial purpose."

More regulation policy has made its way into existence as well - many national parks have banned them, and congested urban areas are often off limits because of airspace restrictions, just as a couple examples.

Attention then turns to legislative efforts in the state capitol to regulate what we can and can't drone. Democratic House representative Jeff Morris is the state's leading advocate for curbing the potential for drones invading citizen's privacy, and we follow him as he talks about and demonstrates some of the risks that exist in the present day legal landscape.

As with any new technology that catches fire on the popularity front, and drones certainly have, a booming industry has developed to service the demand. Washington is a hotbed for that industry, and the film tours a location where unmanned aerial systems are produced for military clientele - so the units shown are on the forefront of technology and capability.

More great documentaries

11 Comments / User Reviews

  1. DigiWongaDude

    I have two. One is tiny with an HD cam and cost less or around $50, not hundreds. The video is awesome. As a programmer I see us heading in to a new and exciting age (have a look at "AirDog" for sports applications). Lots of jobs coming from this too (aerial photography), so there's never been a better time to get in to this.

  2. Richard Neva
  3. Richard Neva

    A fool and his money are soon departed, lol

  4. Aranyani
  5. Aranyani

    One of these flying lawnmowers comes near my place it's target practice.

  6. Paul Gloor
  7. Paul Gloor

    And that's your right over private property, I would recommend a good bird shot with a high pellet count for closer range or a slug if you're a clay shooting savant.
    If its over public space then its legal to take photos, including those with a long lens into private property as is the case with paparazzi photos and you would be likely liable for destruction of property in bringing a persons drone down and damaging their equipment.
    For these things, I suspect the best would be to treat them under 2 laws... One for hobby aircraft, one for photography if there is a camera attached, and there usually is.
    I would love to get one of these with a gimbal for my D7000 and a set of those 1st person goggles to fly it. I would have offered my services to spot trouble spots for sure with the local fires a few months ago if I had one. Drone contracting is certainly a neat sounding business niche that could open up once the laws are ironed out.

  8. Paul Gloor
  9. Paul Gloor

    I agree, I just wonder how much it would cost for one that can carry my D7000, about 2 lbs + long lens and rig to manipulate the controls and zoom.

  10. DigiWongaDude
  11. DigiWongaDude

    Its all about that weight (that lens would weigh a lot too I imagine). I'd be way too scared to put that lot in the sky. They are just too unpredictable (at the moment). The cost if something went wrong... staggering. It'll be interesting to see what amazon's solution will be.

    I use a cheap AEE SD22 very wide angle 60fps 1080i. If I lost it, it would hurt, but it wont cripple me.

    Small and light is the way to go. And there is very good post production stabilizing open source software now too. Even Youtube offers it with uploads.

  12. Paul Gloor
  13. Paul Gloor

    I'm not thinking clarity and stabilization, I'm thinking optical resolution at a distance. For example, flying over that bird colony, a go-pro won't let you get detailed closeup shots without disturbing the birds where a good 300-500mm optical lens will do a far better job of it.

    Precautions can be taken to protect equipment, I did a project back in the day at a technology camp where we designed dropout trays, from release to landing, to deliver a camera system to the ground from a balloon. We were charged in teams to solve the problems associated with making a safe free/arrested fall for the equipment. The cameras weren't super expensive but at the time ran probably 600 to 800 bucks.
    With a drone I can see some problems that need to be worked on, but not insurmountable by the hobbyist.

  14. oQ
  15. oQ

    interesting conversation.

  16. Paul Gloor
  17. Paul Gloor

    My thoughts certainly do push the limits of the privacy barrier though. If someone does have a rig like I suggest, what are they doing with it ? Ultimately, it falls to the current photography rules, private/public/gray area such as shooting onto private property from public property and common courtesy.

  18. bringmeredwine
  19. bringmeredwine

    I really enjoyed this doc.
    I didn't know much about drones except about their military use.
    The aerial footage from the drones in this video are stunning and looked awesome on my tv screen.
    I'd love to use a drone to get a bird's eye view of the beautiful countryside around my camp.
    This doc was a pleasure to watch and I learned so much.
    The man's comment about drones being "the next internet" really rang true for me; after listening the pros and cons mentioned here, of their usage.

  20. noboundryman
  21. noboundryman

    Great show old chaps. It's pure Americana, for good, or bad, depending on your point of view. It's fantastic, we're finally having a technological / philosophical debate about surveillance that should have started many years ago, with the revelations about J. Edgar Hoover, but that's another story. For those that think the police, NSA, CIA NOAA, NASA, and all the other government agencies aren't going to use this technology soon with great gusto, they are living in a fools paradise i'm afraid. This is going to happen as sure as the rain falls, and the sun rises. This is a very exciting time for the people of Washington for sure. The possibilities for whole new related industries are beyond imagining. Let's be responsible, civil, sensible and not screw it up.

    Amateurs / neophytes, and my paranoid friends need to relax, "just a little bit". However, our spy friends, the NSA types, and police friends, need to get with the program. They need to do some soul searching, and get real. They must participate actively in trimming their own powers, so that the heavy hand of a paranoid citizenry doesn't jump the gun, and destroy a good tool. We risk destroying opportunities for Americas pursuit of market success with a new industry. Law enforcement must be overseen by the judiciary in every instance, with the only possible exceptions being "real emergency situations", where the life of individuals are under "direct immediate" threat. They must set hard nosed guidelines for themselves, before the depraved politicians get their hands on it.

    The first thing you do, is, "outlaw the use of (evidence in court or punitive hearing) for any purpose (criminal or civil)", gathered by police / government agencies, corporations, or private individuals using (drones / UAVs) for any purpose what so ever, outside the restrictions of an "emergency" " an immediate eminent life threatening situation", or for legitimate ethical demographic, or scientific research. Then you simply go about your reasonable, commercial, ethical, work as any business does "with the expectation" that you are behaving legitimately. You continue going about your private hobbyist, videographer business, "with the expectation" that you follow safety, and privacy guidelines already established. This isn't rocket science people, it's based on common sense, and long established legal precedent of (constitutional privacies), pubic perceptions, and (expectations) The UAV pilot, the hobbyist, or police officer, or spy, or commercial user must assume the responsibility of ensuring they are not jeopardizing the publics safety,or violating the law, just like a car owner / driver is required to know the laws of the road, and have insurance, and demonstrate competence.

    The process for reasonable searches and seizures have already been established by long standing constitutional, and legal precedent, it's really a matter of enforcing the laws we already have, which apparently isn't happening, considering the NSA has been stealing our phone meta data, and emails for many years. The congress is completely out to lunch on us friends. They are most all of them criminals in my opinion, or completely insane. Perhaps with the guidance, of the few that aren't insane, and public outrage we may force them into action.

Leave a comment / review: