It's summertime concert and festival season and chances are the next time you are at a large outdoor gathering, there will probably be something overhead taking your picture.
How concerned are you about drones flying over your town and recording your every move?
Probably not as concerned as former Amherst Town Board Member Dan Ward, who has put together the framework of a new local law that would govern the use of drones flying over the town.
Ward says that he is mostly concerned about drones being used to surveil citizens, saying that without any law, the devices would be free to fly over the town and take images.
"There's prohibitions we've worked in there against weaponization, we obviously don't want drones flying around that are weaponized," Ward said. "Also, surveillance cameras, perhaps with side-scanning radar that could go through houses or in to the earth."
"It's not an anti-drone, or drone prohibition ordinance, but something to regulate it, because right now there really are no regulations that we've been able to find," Ward said.
His proposed law would penalize any person or entity who illegally flies a drone within local Town of Amherst airspace with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
If a sitting legislator were to take up Ward's proposal and pass it, Amherst would become the first area municipality to ban drone flights. Several states have done so, and a nationwide FAA ban on commercial use of model aircraft and drones is under review
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And Buffalo is not alone.
Drone use in Yosemite National Park is so common that officials banned them in May saying the noise and the visibility harms the experience for visitors who aren't taking aerial pictures.
A small, four-rotor drone (pictured below) hovered over Washington Nationals players for a few days during spring training in Florida this year, taking publicity photos impossible for a human photographer to capture
. But no one got the Federal Aviation Administration's permission first, and the flights ceased the following day..
"No, we didn't get it cleared, but we don't get our pop flies cleared either and those go higher than this thing did," a team official said when contacted by The Associated Press. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.Exclusive WBEN Audio
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In most cases, such flying is banned by the Federal Aviation Administration, but earlier this year a judge tossed out a fine against aerial photographer Raphael Pirker of Virginia arguing that there were no real, properly-enacted FAA rules passed to implement the ban.
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The FAA hopes to come out with rules on all of this before the year ends., but for now they say a model aircraft used for recreational purposes is fine. When used for business, or if the UAV starts to have any independent controls on it, it should not fly, the FAA says.
Media organizations, represented in part by a Buffalo attorney, are flying in the face of the disputed rules .
"We view them as just another tool, like deciding to use a wide angle lens or a telephoto lens," says Attorney Mickey Osterreicher, a former WKBW Eyewitness News photographer that serves as counsel to the National Press Photographers Association.
|from the Washington Post:
"On the same day last month, airline pilots trying to land at two of the nation’s busiest airports got on their radios to report the unnerving sight of small rogue drones buzzing at high altitudes.
In the first incident on May 29, the pilot of a commercial airliner descending toward LaGuardia Airport saw what appeared to be a black drone with a 10-to-15-foot wingspan about 5,500 feet above Lower Manhattan, according to a previously undisclosed report filed with the Federal Aviation Administration."
The FAA won't currently issue drone permits to news organizations. Officials have sent warning letters to journalists found to have used small unmanned aircraft — most of them no bigger than a backpack — to take photos and videos.
The agency suggested to one Ohio newspaper that it refrain from publishing video of a burning building taken independently by a drone hobbyist, even though hobbyists, unlike journalists, are permitted to fly drones, according to the FAA's procedures.
In the meantime, seven photography companies in California, Texas and Tennessee have applied to the FAA for waivers from the ban to allow them to work with Hollywood without facing sanctions.
And Osterreicher presses the case .
"This hand wringing and finger gnashing regarding privacy issues is nothing new. Back in the 1800s, when the Brownie first came out .. George Eastman invented this camera that could be taken out in the streets, and this same type of thing was going on. People were saying privacy as we know it would come to an end..."
"We are not talking about flying these things around and just patrolling the skies," Osterreicher says.
As the FAA and the media debate thier use in the US, the drone industry and some members of Congress are worried the United States will be one of the last countries, rather than one of the first, to gain the economic benefits of the technology.
"We don't have the luxury of waiting another 20 years," said Paul McDuffee, vice president of drone-maker Insitu of Bingen, Wash., a subsidiary of Boeing.
"This industry is exploding. It's getting to the point where it may end up happening with or without the FAA's blessing," McDuffie says.
In Japan, the Yamaha Motor Company's RMAX helicopter drones have been spraying crops for 20 years. The radio-controlled drones weighing 140 pounds are cheaper than hiring a plane and are able to more precisely apply fertilizers and pesticides. They fly closer to the ground and their backwash enables the spray to reach the underside of leaves.
The helicopters went into use five years ago in South Korea and last year in Australia.
Television networks use drones to cover cricket matches in Australia. Zookal, a Sydney company that rents textbooks to college students, plans to begin delivering books via drones later this year. The United Arab Emirates has a project underway to see whether government documents like driver's licenses, identity cards and permits can be delivered using small drones.
In the United Kingdom, energy companies use drones to check the undersides of oil platforms for corrosion and repairs, and real estate agents use them to shoot videos of pricey properties. In a publicity stunt last June, a Domino's Pizza franchise in the U.K. posted a YouTube video of a "DomiCopter" drone flying over fields, trees and homes to deliver two pizzas.
But when Lakemaid Beer tried to use a drone to deliver six-packs to ice fishermen on a frozen lake in Minnesota, the FAA grounded the brewskis.
Andreas Raptopoulous, CEO of Matternet in Menlo Park, Calif., predicts that in the near term, there will be more extensive use of drones in impoverished countries than in wealthier nations such as the U.S.
He sees a market for drones to deliver medicines and other critical, small packaged goods to the 1 billion people around the globe who don't have year-round access to roads.
Later this year, Matternet plans to start selling to government and aid organizations a package that includes a drone and two landing pads. On the return trip, the drones can carry blood samples bound for labs and other packages.
Germany's express delivery company Deutsche Post DHL is testing a "Paketkopter" drone that could be used to deliver small, urgently needed goods in hard-to-reach places. Facebook is in talks to buy Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar-powered drone-like satellites, to step up its efforts to provide Internet access to remote parts of the world.
There is also a strong business case for urban drones that can replace truck deliveries of single packages. "If you look at the economic footprint and CO2 emissions," Raptopoulous said, the drone "beats the truck hands down."
Worldwide sales of military and civilian drones will reach an estimated $89 billion over the next decade, according to the Teal Group, an aerospace research company in Fairfax, Va. The FAA estimates as many as 7,500 small commercial drones will be in use within five years once the necessary regulations are in place.
Jim Williams, head of the FAA's drone office, said writing rules for the U.S. is more complex than other nations. The U.S. has far more air traffic than anywhere else and a greater variety of aircraft, from hot air balloons and old-fashioned barnstormers to the most sophisticated airliners and military and business jets. At low altitudes, the concern is a small drone could collide with a helicopter or small plane flown by a recreational pilot.
"It's a different culture in the U.S. and Canada," Williams said in an interview. "People believe they have the right to just jump in their airplane and fly just like they do their car. ... We can't set up a system that puts any of those folks at risk."
Yet the FAA permits hobbyists to fly model aircraft that have so improved in technology that they're little different from small drones. The FAA has issued voluntary guidelines for hobbyists, including staying away from airports, flying no higher than 400 feet and staying within the line of sight of the operator.
"You could go off to the hobby shop, buy a little remote control helicopter and fly it to your heart's content," McDuffee said. "But if you hung a digital camera on that, took pictures of your neighbor's roof and sold those pictures to him or her, now you are in business and you're flying" an unmanned aircraft system.
Sean Cassidy, senior vice president at the Air Line Pilots Association, said he worries that commercial drone users will be less willing than hobbyists to abide by restrictions because of economic pressures.
Drones are "becoming so prevalent and affordable that something has to be done to make sure they're not being used in a reckless manner," he, said. "Even a fairly small (drone), if the person flying this thing is unaware of their surroundings ... there could be very dire consequences."