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view over cliffs 600Putting the case for drones

Drones are not everyone’s cup of tea, and can attract fierce criticism – drone rage – as expressed in HOT’s pages last year. Drone enthusiast Nick Emmons thinks much of this is misplaced, as he explains. Via his drone, he has also supplied some fascinating aerial shots of Hastings Country Park.

Last week, purely by accident, I stumbled across an article on HOT about drones which caught my eye. The author has written many interesting articles on local issues, however, as I read this one and the comments people had left on the subject, I became increasingly surprised by the negative attitudes and irrational hatred and distrust being expressed at these devices. I began to write a reply of my own to give an alternative viewpoint, however the more I wrote the more I realised a simple reply wouldn’t even begin to cover it, and so it’s in this context that this piece has been written.

As a drone flier for the last two months, after much saving and researching, I’m amazed by the level of hate directed at these devices. I understand and respect that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but so much of it seems to be knee-jerk reaction to media headlines and fear of being snooped on rather than based on reasoned thinking. The facts are that the vast majority of drone fliers are responsible people who go out of their way to be considerate and not risk their own hobby by bringing it into disrepute. There’s always a few exceptions like the person who allegedly flew over Gatwick last year (although there’s no concrete evidence that a drone was actually there at the time). But this is not the norm.

pic3 350Anyone can buy a car and drive it on the public highway. Some motorists break the law and speed, or drive whilst on their phones, or tailgate and are a nuisance or even a safety risk. Should we ban cars? Of course not. I’ll attempt to give a balanced view of the comments I read the most often about drones and which are cited in the replies to the article in question.

Drones are an invasion of privacy This seems to be the most common issue expressed. So let’s look at this logically. If I go walking on the hills and I see you, am I invading your privacy? No. If I use my phone or even a camera to take a picture of the landscape and you are in it (try taking a picture of almost any Sussex beauty spot with not a soul in it!) then am I invading your privacy? No. You are in a public place and as such are visible to any other member of the public.

If I now use a drone to take that same scene from an elevated viewpoint to clear some trees and bins and other clutter, and for a more interesting perspective, am I now invading your privacy any more than from ground level? Of course not. I have no interest in what you are doing. In the nicest possible way and with the greatest respect, are you really that interesting that anyone would want to spy on you?

There seems to be a commonly held opinion that just because you might see a drone nearby it must be spying on you. Indeed, even in the text of the original article, the author states: ‘Whoever was operating it, actually hovered it in the sky over our heads, presumably filming or viewing us’. Presumably? This is an assumption on which the whole article is based. And then to write about that in the public domain, causing people to believe that that’s what it must have been doing, is not objective in my view. It may well have been watching the author, I’m not in a position to know. However it’s much more likely that it wasn’t.

pic4 350Even if one seems to be hovering nearby, it’s most likely not looking at you but is probably looking horizontally at the scene and the owner is likely checking exposure or focus before taking a picture you don’t feature in. Drone owners haven’t spent their good money just to go snooping on everyone they come across. They’ve spent it to further pursue their hobby and interest and open up new creative avenues.

Modern life is filled with far more common examples of what could be perceived to be an invasion of privacy that we just don’t seem to notice anymore, as they are so commonplace. Traffic enforcement cameras, the much more subtle traffic flow monitoring cameras, CCTV in almost all urban environments, availability of personal information including address details online from sites like 192.com. Yet we don’t take issue or seem to have such strong opinions about many of these because they are commonplace and no longer catch our attention.

The occasional low-flying microlight or paraglider only raises glances of admiration and interest, never do I read that the pilots must be spying on us. It seems that because drones are still not an everyday sight, we are not used to them and hence we notice them more when we do see one. We are more wary of it and it’s human nature to be wary of the unknown. But this doesn’t automatically mean that there is some shady reason for it being there.

They should all be shot down Why? I overheard this one first-hand last week when I was out flying – see below. Do you really think it’s ok to destroy someone else’s property just because you don’t personally like it? You’re actually saying it’s ok to destroy someone’s things because you feel like it? If I didn’t like the colour of your car or thought it was too polluting with its big engine, does this make it ok for me to smash it up or set fire to it? Of course it doesn’t. But using the ‘shoot it down’ logic this would be perfectly acceptable. And if you were to shoot it down, where’s it going to land? You would cause it to crash and possibly cause an accident.

pic5 350Purchasers should show good reason to have one A hobby-grade drone weighs about 500g to 800g for a really expensive one, usually less, typically flies around 35mph max and has a battery that lasts for 25 minutes at the most. A car weighs one-two tonnes, can go over 100mph and can travel for many hours on a full tank. A car can do a lot more damage than a drone. Many people are killed every day on the roads. I don’t believe anyone has ever been killed or even injured by a hobby-grade drone. Should we therefore make sure all car purchasers can show a justifiable reason to own a car before they’re allowed to own one?

If privacy is the concern, then should ladders be banned from sale without good reason in case your neighbour can look over your garden fence? Or how about cameras? They can capture images of people out and about. Should we require anyone buying a camera – or even a phone with a camera – to provide proof of why they need it? For cameras, is a hobby of photography not a good enough reason? That’s usually what people buy drones for too. They’re just a camera that can reach more interesting angles.

There should be gun-style licences for public ownership To liken a drone to a gun is completely irrational. If used irresponsibly a gun has the potential to do far more damage than a drone. A drone is designed to bring harmless creative opportunities to its owner. However, just like so many other things, there is the potential for misuse if not used responsibly. In these cases it’s not the device that’s at fault, it’s down to the way it’s used. Of course there will always be a small minority who may not respect the rules or fly considerately. I do therefore agree with the need for there to be some form of registration and licensing in the same way as for cars.

The Civil Aviation Authority has now launched a drone registration service which is mandatory after the end of November 2019 for all drone pilots of drones weighing more than 250 grams in the UK. There are 20 questions to determine good knowledge of the rules you need to abide by as a pilot and you receive a Flyer ID and an Operator ID. The Flyer ID is your confirmation that you achieved a good level of competency and knowledge of the rules and your Operator ID identifies you and must be displayed on all drones you fly.

pic6 350Hopefully this requirement will weed out many who may buy a drone casually and not abide by the rules – rules which are now included in the packaging of almost all drones you can buy in this country and encourage even better practice by making pilots aware of their responsibilities whilst airborne. I have passed this test and have my IDs displayed on my drone as I’m a responsible pilot. Hopefully all responsible owners and those who want to avoid possibly having their drone confiscated by the Police for not abiding by the law will do the same.

Encounters in the Country Park

I was actually flying my drone in the hills near Hastings last week just as the sun was rising. It was a beautiful morning and I wanted to try to capture the beauty of the place in the best light. As I was setting up, an elderly gentleman out walking his dog stopped and began chatting to me. He was really interested in my drone and watched fascinated as I took off and began to shoot some frosty landscape views. As we chatted and I let him see the controller screen so he could see the view for himself, a couple of other elderly gents walking their dogs joined us, friends of the first chap it transpired. They were all interested and found it wonderful to be able to see the beauty of the cliffs by looking back at them from over the sea.

As I brought the drone back closer three elderly ladies walked past. One of them noticed the drone and I heard her say to her friends, “There’s one of those drones, they should all be shot down if you ask me”. The gents I was with were as surprised as I was. I was doing no harm, not invading anyone’s privacy and not causing a nuisance. Even the noise was minimal as you can only hear it when under 50 metres away and most of the time it’s further away and constantly moving, so anyone would only ever hear it quietly and for a few seconds. Any passing car causes much more of a racket.

I politely asked the lady why she thought this and she just said, “They’re an invasion of privacy.” I indicated that I wasn’t invading her privacy here in this public place, but she repeated, “They’re an invasion of privacy, that’s my opinion and I won’t change it”. She seemed to see the drone as the physical manifestation of the very concept of invasion of privacy. Yet we were in a public place and I could see her much better up close as she walked past than I could ever see with the tiny wide-angle lens on my drone which is designed for taking in huge vistas. I left wondering to myself what had caused this lady to form her opinion and regard what is just a creative tool with such contempt…

view over cliffs2 600

Posted 20:35 Thursday, Nov 28, 2019 In: Hastings People

6 Comments

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  1. Anton

    I find them fascinating, they are an amazing invention and I love the footage that drones produce – particularly of local areas like the East and West Hills. However, somewhat paradoxically, or maybe ironically, I do feel that when I come across someone using them, they are noisy and I find it impossible to be at ease around them, and they often, in my experience, are extremely disturbing to wildlife – that is my experience, so no matter how lengthy your arguments against other people’s views or actual experiences are, you can’t change that – which is what you appear to be trying to do in this article. If someone is telling you that they think a drone is invading their privacy, then I think you need to accept that – they are being recorded after all. It’s usually clear what is being recorded if someone is standing there with a camera, but with a drone, they can go anywhere and could be filming anything. I don’t think your comparisons to planes etc. are very viable either. Drones obviously upset a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, and should not be used without proper consideration for the surrounding environment and any people or animals present. You may well be a responsible operator, but many are not. Now if your drone could be used to catch dog owners not clearing up their dog poo………….

    Comment by Anton — Thursday, Dec 5, 2019 @ 17:17

  2. DAR

    A registration and licence scheme should have been brought in from the start, where every Tom, Dick or Mo should give a good reason why they want one. This should happen BEFORE purchase, and said licence should then be produced to enable the purchase. I wrote to Amber Rudd about this issue some 5 years ago because the government was behind the curve. At least something is being done now, but I think we’ve been very lucky so far that we haven’t had an air accident involving these things.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Dec 5, 2019 @ 12:50

  3. Kathryn Sargent

    Anyone familiar with programmes featuring the environment such as Coast and Country File will be aware of the advantages of using drone technology in filming.
    News items revealing the extent of disasters such as flooding also feature drone use, and drones can be used to assess damage in situations judged unsafe for entry by firefighters and others.
    A drone is a tool that has an increasing number of helpful applications.
    As always with technological developments the responsibility lies with the user.

    Comment by Kathryn Sargent — Wednesday, Dec 4, 2019 @ 15:41

  4. Nick Emmons

    Ms Doubtfire,
    I agree with you as I mentioned in the article. Some form of registration to make owners accountable and traceable is definitely required as drones become more popular, just as for cars. That’s now law as of the end of November. Hopefully adherence by the responsible majority to this requirement will go a long way to alleviating the possibly understandable reaction to be wary and suspicious of such unfamiliar devices. Most drone pilots will be very happy to chat to you and show you what they’re filming if you approach them and ask them nicely. We love talking about our hobby!

    Comment by Nick Emmons — Tuesday, Dec 3, 2019 @ 13:52

  5. Ms.Doubtfire

    Nick Emmons may use his drone hobby as a perfectly innocent activity but there are those who abuse this facility….IMOH all drones purchased should be licensed..and it should be a criminal offence to own one of these appliances without. Now what is wrong with that?

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Tuesday, Dec 3, 2019 @ 09:07

  6. MAvic_South_Oz

    Well written Nick.
    Indeed anyone concerned about hobbyist drones should approach one and ask about what it can do and how great a perspective it can bring to photography and videography.
    Most pilots will be more than happy to ease any concerns and share some insights into what these little machines can do creatively.
    (Many will want to land first, depending on the flight characteristics, as paying attention to the aircraft is important.)

    Comment by MAvic_South_Oz — Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 @ 13:22

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