Commercial Drones Were Never Actually Illegal, Rules Judge

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Commercial Drones Were Never Actually Illegal, Rules Judge

amazone prime air drone 02

Despite what the FAA may have told you, U.S. citizens are completely free to fly drones all day long.

There's never been a shortage of good uses for drones. Very smart people are working very hard so that we, the consumers, could someday order flying robots to bring us tacos. The problem is that the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't like the idea of commercial drones, and has threatened anyone who breaks that law with a $10,000 fine. However, it seems somebody didn't do their homework - the FAA recently took its first drone case to court, where the judge realized that there isn't actually a law forbidding commercial drone usage.

Raphael Pirker recently used a drone to do some professional filming at the University of Virginia. The FAA issued a fine, claiming that there was "no gray area" in the law regarding this kind of activity. Pirker fought the case, and he and his lawyer discovered that the root of the FAA's claim was a policy notice from six years ago, with no actual regulation behind it. The judge, finding no law against Pirker's actions, dismissed the fine.

All you drone operators out there, take note - this is your chance. The FAA can appeal the decision and bring the case to the D.C. Court of Appeals, and will probably start putting together some regulations it can actually enforce. But until then, the use of commercial drones is 100% legal. Unregulated sky robots: 1, FAA: 0.

Source: Motherboard

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As much as I want to grin because I dislike people being taken to court over innocent actions, I can't say that "Unregulated Sky Robots" is ever something I want to win points.

While I understand that having drones fly around everywhere could potentially endanger planes, surely this is only going to be a real issue around airports.

Li Mu:
While I understand that having drones fly around everywhere could potentially endanger planes, surely this is only going to be a real issue around airports.

Exactly. Not that I know for sure, but I'm pretty sure there's a list of restrictions that airports already have for the surrounding area?

OT: So, wait, what happened? I know this is ironic considering my username, but I'm not sure if it was just a law that was never actually passed or what?

Not a real surprise. As soon as they get a judge to decide in their favor, you have a defacto law creation. It's a shortcut used by prosecutors all the time skirt the need to actually have a bill created, voted on, and passed into a law.

As someone who likes the idea of commercial drones being used for fast delivery... bravo!

I was wondering how the FAA got a law on drones passed so quickly. Turns out the answer was - they didn't! They just lied about it.

**rubs hands**

Come on Amazon Drone Shipping!

Also...

inb4 "Argal Blargal Skynet etc"

What I find the most abhorrent about this whole fiasco is how what is essentially a new application for technological advancement is being quashed/fought by big business.

Robotics is the future and the technology used to program such machines to navigate 3D space automatically is going to have far reaching consequences in other fields such as search and rescue, hazardous mining, and space exploration.

We NEED this technology to "take off", not because of the immediate benefits but because of the tangential benefits that will spawn from it.

I wonder what's to stop someone with a rifle and good aim to shoot down every delivery drone he sees. It's like theft, delivered right to your backyard.

Wait, it was even an issue?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't drones just basically long range RC toys?
And as far as I know RC toys weren't outlawed.

blackrave:
Wait, it was even an issue?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't drones just basically long range RC toys?
And as far as I know RC toys weren't outlawed.

The difference in a drone and rc is that a person is directly controlling the machine instead of a program(of course, you can turn it over to manual).
Other than that...

So they don't trust that the drones are programed properly?

lacktheknack:
As much as I want to grin because I dislike people being taken to court over innocent actions, I can't say that "Unregulated Sky Robots" is ever something I want to win points.

You're thinking too 'robot apocalypse' here, man. Try and visualize a more...Jetsons kind of approach.

I'm not interested in having a bunch of flying camera allowed to go where ever they please. I'm all in favor of the things being outlawed.

Aethren:
I wonder what's to stop someone with a rifle and good aim to shoot down every delivery drone he sees. It's like theft, delivered right to your backyard.

What's to stop someone with a knife from slashing the tires of every postal truck they see?

OP: Though I suspect the FAA will want to go further, as much as I like drones, they ought to have some level of regulation, even if it's just to stop them from flying in certain areas, like airports.

Raziel:
I'm not interested in having a bunch of flying camera allowed to go where ever they please. I'm all in favor of the things being outlawed.

Oh hey, I just walked down the street. I guess I should be outlawed too.

You realise that these things will just be flying above your houses, not right next to your windows? Not to mention, what's the worst that happens when a drone (which is usually remote flown, not piloted) that for some reason is recording everything it sees flies over you?

It sees a person? It sees a person in a window which other people could already see? It sees you having sex? What, will it stop and film a porno?

Whilst I agree having people stick cameras in your own home and record you 24/7 is a breach of privacy, having drones fly over in PUBLIC where people can already see you and helicopters already do the same thing - what's the problem?

lacktheknack:
As much as I want to grin because I dislike people being taken to court over innocent actions, I can't say that "Unregulated Sky Robots" is ever something I want to win points.

Yeah...sure, drones are going to happen, but they are something that needs careful monitoring, which seems unlikely.

The though of items being delivered right into my balcony is amazing thing. Even if my country is so behind in such things that we will get it 5-10 years after you do, that will still be something i would gladly enjoy. Very nuch for it all the way.

Abomination:
What I find the most abhorrent about this whole fiasco is how what is essentially a new application for technological advancement is being quashed/fought by big business.

Robotics is the future and the technology used to program such machines to navigate 3D space automatically is going to have far reaching consequences in other fields such as search and rescue, hazardous mining, and space exploration.

We NEED this technology to "take off", not because of the immediate benefits but because of the tangential benefits that will spawn from it.

Amazon (who started this whole thing) would be considered big business. The Federal Aviation Administration, not so much :)
It's basically the airports going out there saying "We don't want an uncontrolled airspace filled with drones" and they're trying to nip it in the bud, presumably to lay some groundwork before everyone and their mother sends out a quadrillion of them. Or more likely, to prevent the fist accident by drone.

As much as I love to theorize that there are "evil" companies and organizations out there (apart from EA), the thing is that this could prove to be a pretty big mess if it's not controlled in any way. It doesn't mean that there can't be drones, just that maybe not everyone should be allowed to send them out en masse without a bit of training or regulation. That to me, sounds fair, even if the FFA did go overboard and seems to want to hog the airspace.

Lil_Rimmy:
It sees a person? It sees a person in a window which other people could already see? It sees you having sex? What, will it stop and film a porno?

Yes, that's exactly the problem. Not that they will all do that of course, but that in the absence of any regulation it's entirely possible for someone to do so. The legality may already be covered by other laws, since I'm fairly sure you can't just walk up to someone's house and film them having sex using nothing other than your legs and a regular camera, but with unregulated drones allowed to fly anywhere they like such laws become unenforceable. If you see someone sneaking around your garden with a camera, you can call the police. What do you do if you see a hundred drones flying past your house? How could you even know if one of them might be doing something suspicious?

having drones fly over in PUBLIC where people can already see you and helicopters already do the same thing - what's the problem?

Ultimately, ease of access. Sure, a helicopter could fly over my house right now, and in theory someone could hire one of the sole purpose of filming everyone in their homes. But that's not exactly a cheap, common thing to do. On the other hand, you can easily get a quadrocopter and decent camera setup for maybe 300. Junk mail was entirely possible before the printing press was invented, but because of the cost and difficulty in actually producing and delivering large amounts of letters it obviously wasn't an issue. Technology that allows pretty much anyone to mass produce leaflets means it's now a huge issue. Same for drones. It's not that they allow us to do things that were previously impossible, but simply that they make certain actions far cheaper, easier, and in this case harder to even know if something dodgy is going on at all.

Note that I'm certainly not suggesting we should simply ban them as some have suggested. That would be a completely ridiculous response to an extremely useful technology. Indeed, I'm still planning with a group of friends to sort out a quadrocopter, gopro and raspberry pi for filming us kayaking. There are all kinds of very useful and/or interesting things drones can be used for. But that doesn't mean it should just be a wild west with no regulation at all. There are very real concerns about privacy, among other things, and it would be best to try to address them before they become a major issue as the technology gets cheaper and more popular.

Smilomaniac:
Amazon (who started this whole thing)

Wait, what? You think Amazon started the idea of using drones? Maybe you didn't notice, but this article is about someone using one to do filming, which is something that was happening long before Amazon ever even mentioned the things. Drones have been in commercial use for a while now. Amazon are not one of the pioneers in using them, and will probably never use them at all.

Kahani:

Wait, what? You think Amazon started the idea of using drones? Maybe you didn't notice, but this article is about someone using one to do filming, which is something that was happening long before Amazon ever even mentioned the things. Drones have been in commercial use for a while now. Amazon are not one of the pioneers in using them, and will probably never use them at all.

That's true, but it is what started the whole media frenzy about drones and likely the cause of FFA taking a very high interest.
Besides, the point was "big business" and in the post I quoted, Amazon would be an example of that.
You avoided the context of my post :)

Smilomaniac:
That's true, but it is what started the whole media frenzy about drones and likely the cause of FFA taking a very high interest.
Besides, the point was "big business" and in the post I quoted, Amazon would be an example of that.
You avoided the context of my post :)

No I didn't, but you certainly seemed to have completely missed the context of the entire thread:

Cognimancer:
the root of the FAA's claim was a policy notice from six years ago

Remind me again when Amazon started talking about drones?

Kahani:

No I didn't, but you certainly seemed to have completely missed the context of the entire thread:

In that case, explain to me how the FFA is a big business out to destroy drones as a possible future tool for rescuing people, which was what I responded to. It's not related to the thread, it's related to a specific response that I made to another poster.

Kahani:

Cognimancer:
the root of the FAA's claim was a policy notice from six years ago

Remind me again when Amazon started talking about drones?

I'll try to explain it to you.

The FFA made a notice in 2007 which is what they're basing their current case on. What the notice is exactly, I don't know, but it's likely to do with ultralights (small unmanned crafts like drones or model airplanes) being used in an inappropriate or reckless manner. Whether or not it's strictly in regards to commercial use, again I don't know.

Right now, we have enormous exposure to this due to the Amazon video and official announcement that they were considering using drones to deliver small packages, which is very likely the reason that there's a drone FAQ or mythbuster on the FFA front page.
I'm not saying Amazon invented drones or that they're the first to think of the idea (which I told you in my last post), but I am saying that they're likely the reason that there's a stink about it now, which the practice group for unmanned commercial systems made in late December last year would support.

I don't know what your beef is with me, but again, you're taking what I said out of context and seem to be offended somehow that I think Amazon thought of commercial use for drones, which I don't. I'm honestly completely baffled about why you'd respond to my post at all.

Li Mu:
While I understand that having drones fly around everywhere could potentially endanger planes, surely this is only going to be a real issue around airports.

What if one of those drones malfunctions and tumbles down on someone's head / property from 30 meters high?

What if people equip them with cameras to film your every move?

What if burglars let them fly around your house to find the weak spots in your alarm and plan their thievery accordingly?

etc.

It's still very much a grey area imo.

Fdzzaigl:

Li Mu:
While I understand that having drones fly around everywhere could potentially endanger planes, surely this is only going to be a real issue around airports.

What if one of those drones malfunctions and tumbles down on someone's head / property from 30 meters high?

What if people equip them with cameras to film your every move?

What if burglars let them fly around your house to find the weak spots in your alarm and plan their thievery accordingly?

etc.

It's still very much a grey area imo.

All of which are illegal under separate laws.
Property damage/personal injury, privacy and burglary laws, respectively.

Don't get me wrong, I think the FAA should have SOME regulation on this.
In fact they should have quite alot, since I don't want some guys cheap predator drone knockoff crashing into my living room.
But drones should not be the sole providence of governments.

For example. imagine what a farm could do crop dusting and monitoring growth patterns from a ROV.
And amazon and such, maybe even a pizza delivery company.

Remember cars have reams and reams of regulation surrounding them, why should drones be any different?

Aethren:
I wonder what's to stop someone with a rifle and good aim to shoot down every delivery drone he sees. It's like theft, delivered right to your backyard.

Hitting a fast flying object with a rifle is exceedingly difficult. Hitting a fast flying object with a rifle flying at around 100yards/meters would make you Annie Oakley. Likely, you would want to use a shotgun for this, since drones are similar in size and speed to ducks. But even then, shot used against fowl is useful out to about 40-50 yards. The chances of anyone getting lucky enough to have their weapon in hand and loaded and catch a drone flying low enough to hit it is absurdly low really.

I'm pretty good with a wide variety of weapons, and while I could hit a drone sized target from 100 yards with ease if it were sitting still or moving slowly, it simply is not practical to think of bringing one down over that distance if it were in full flight. Just my 2 cents.

Fdzzaigl:

Li Mu:
While I understand that having drones fly around everywhere could potentially endanger planes, surely this is only going to be a real issue around airports.

What if one of those drones malfunctions and tumbles down on someone's head / property from 30 meters high?

What if people equip them with cameras to film your every move?

What if burglars let them fly around your house to find the weak spots in your alarm and plan their thievery accordingly?

etc.

It's still very much a grey area imo.

I'd say that only your first point could really be valid.
It's easy to film our every move already. Camera phones are proof of this. There's also enough CCTV around that you can be tracked pretty well in large cities. Also, I think burgulars can simply do what they've always done; walk around your house.

I doubt that the safety of the common man or woman is what worries the FAA. More likely that it would make it easier to photograph military bases and such places considered high on the national security list.

testguy23:

Fdzzaigl:

What if one of those drones malfunctions and tumbles down on someone's head / property from 30 meters high?

What if people equip them with cameras to film your every move?

What if burglars let them fly around your house to find the weak spots in your alarm and plan their thievery accordingly?

etc.

It's still very much a grey area imo.

My god... how do you go outside?
How are you not riddled with:
"What if I get into a car accident while driving down the street?"
"What if that dog over there bites me?"
"What if I catch a stray bullet while at the park?"
... and there is absolutely no way you've ever flown on a plane because you could never get past "What if the plane crashes?" mantra that probably runs through your head.
And I'm fairly certain you're pretty anti-gay because there's no chance you can get off the topic of, "IF we let them marry... what if next is farm animals?!"

Meteorites have crashed through people's homes and hit them. It happens. If a drone hits someone... it happens.
Kind of like when a car does. Or a plane crash. Or {insert anything here}.

You're already being filmed 24/7.... never mind that there are cell phones with cameras literally everywhere. But the cities of the world are blanketed with cameras. Plus government satellites.
Soon google glass (and other wearable tech like it) will be everywhere.

As for the burglars.... you're right, prior to aerial drone surveillance no one ever had their home broken into before. lol

Anytime you want me to stop pointing out how utterly stupid your post was, just let me know....

Except all his points are valid, you advocate rushing into a technological revolution with nary a backward glance. The chances of me being hit by a car are thankfully quite small if I follow basic road safety.

One has literally no way of knowing whether a drone's engines will fail and hurtle its way towards your brain because let's be fair drones aren't going to be on a 'road' which one can look both ways on and plan accordingly.

Don't be so dismissive of very real problems with the proliferation of drone technology.

Of course commercial drones aren't illegal. The Tommy gun wasn't illegal either until legislation was passed regarding private ownership of fully automatic weapons. The legal system is always a dozen years behind the technology curve.

So I expect corporations to take full advantage of the lag until legislation and regulation can catch up.

So the judge dismissed the fine due to lack of any actual regulations on the books by the FAA that prohibits drone flights. My question is can the FAA make a regulation regarding flying drones or will it just be struck down as an overreach? Would there be a difference between someone just flying a drone around for the sake of flying a drone and a business using it for a specific purpose? There are a lot of questions about the use of drones and I think that this would be a place where some clarification would be welcome and a little bit of regulation would be good (i.e. size limits and possibly flight paths). If you think gridlock in cities is bad just think about trying to direct traffic in 3 dimensions instead of 2.

FalloutJack:

lacktheknack:
As much as I want to grin because I dislike people being taken to court over innocent actions, I can't say that "Unregulated Sky Robots" is ever something I want to win points.

You're thinking too 'robot apocalypse' here, man. Try and visualize a more...Jetsons kind of approach.

No one has less faith in a robot apocalypse than me.

I'm thinking more along the lines of "Mafia hits".

Alright, make airports off-limits to aerial drones, and restrict their height to something reasonable so they don't endanger planes outside the airport either.

If security is their biggest concern, don't outlaw it outright, establish security guidelines and requirements.

testguy23:

Meteorites have crashed through people's homes and hit them. It happens. If a drone hits someone... it happens.
Kind of like when a car does. Or a plane crash. Or {insert anything here}.

You're already being filmed 24/7.... never mind that there are cell phones with cameras literally everywhere. But the cities of the world are blanketed with cameras. Plus government satellites.
Soon google glass (and other wearable tech like it) will be everywhere.

As for the burglars.... you're right, prior to aerial drone surveillance no one ever had their home broken into before. lol

Most people understand that just because something bad already happens is no reason to make it *easier* to happen unless there's a really good reason to.
Murder and blowing buildings up is also illegal. By your logic, because they happen means we shouldn't bother restricting the sale of fire-arms or explosives. Do you lock your doors when you leave your home? Because if you do, then you're a being hypocrite here.

With no regulation out there, the odds of being hit by a malfunctioning or badly piloted drone are *much* higher than they need to be. A vehicle requires registration, so that if it hits you or your property we can track it back to the owner and make sure they pay for it. Tell me, exactly how do you think we're supposed to identify where a random drone that fell out of the sky and smashed through your windshield came from? Yes, it does happen. Does that mean we shouldn't be concerned about it, or taking steps to lessen the chances of it happening?

Yes, being a peeping tom on private activities in private premises is illegal already. However, most people have a sense that if they're in their own home on an upper floor or in a private fenced yard, they can rely on their activities being reasonably private from being purposely spied on. Sure, a lot of people understand they're getting filmed incidentally by gov't satellites or whatever, but lets be honest, we know the gov't has no interest in putting up those pictures of you nude sunbathing in your yard on the internet.

Anytime you want me to stop pointing out how utterly stupid your post was, just let me know....

Perhaps you should reflect on this line more... it certainly reflects on you.

lacktheknack:

I'm thinking more along the lines of "Mafia hits".

What? You mean like this?

Well, considering technology lately, this world might end up like Shadowrun.

Lil_Rimmy:

Raziel:
I'm not interested in having a bunch of flying camera allowed to go where ever they please. I'm all in favor of the things being outlawed.

Oh hey, I just walked down the street. I guess I should be outlawed too.

You realise that these things will just be flying above your houses, not right next to your windows? Not to mention, what's the worst that happens when a drone (which is usually remote flown, not piloted) that for some reason is recording everything it sees flies over you?

It sees a person? It sees a person in a window which other people could already see? It sees you having sex? What, will it stop and film a porno?

Whilst I agree having people stick cameras in your own home and record you 24/7 is a breach of privacy, having drones fly over in PUBLIC where people can already see you and helicopters already do the same thing - what's the problem?

If they just fly over I don't have a problem (as long as they have no downward facing cameras). However, if I saw one hovering over my house for a while I would assume it was up to something nefarious and shoot it down.

rsacks:
So the judge dismissed the fine due to lack of any actual regulations on the books by the FAA that prohibits drone flights. My question is can the FAA make a regulation regarding flying drones or will it just be struck down as an overreach? Would there be a difference between someone just flying a drone around for the sake of flying a drone and a business using it for a specific purpose?

I have some experience (unfortunate experience) dealing with the FAA on this, so I'll weigh in. The judge came down on the side of the individual, since the FAA had fined someone for a statement violation that wasn't actually a law. The statement was an addendum to quite old rules regarding model aircraft, which basically stated that hobby model aircraft = OK. Hobby aircraft for profit = Illegal UAV (but not actually illegal, it was *pending legislation* that never happened).

Now to my story- I had the bright idea to use the new-at-the-time Draganflyer UAV, an awesome R/C heli platform with rotors in an X configuration, and a secure mount for a number of different cameras. Additionally, it had GPS routing, position/alt hold, and could be controlled using glasses with a cam in it, bad ass. My idea was to use this as a green, and MUCH cheaper alternative to traditional aerial photography for construction projects and real estate. Do you have any idea how much it costs to have the regular necessary progress pictures shot by a photographer in a fixed-wing aircraft for a construction project? And how much fuel is burned? Anyway, I got a loan, bought the (fucking crazy expensive) UAV, got a website together, and started by doing some work for local realtors, as aerial shots of nice, well maintained property looks awesome on a listing. Before even sinking my teeth into a real contract with a construction company, I got hit with a C&D by the FAA. Other people offer this kind of service with regards to wedding/event photo packages, but get away with it saying it's a "bonus" and they're not paying for it. Since my business was built around this, I was targeted and shut down in 2010. My bank wasn't happy. Luckily, I was able to return the UAV (draganflyer's support was awesome on this, they're trying their best to get themselves used by US customers, and were sympathetic. I'll def. buy from them again).

So hearing this made me happy and really goddamn pissed at the same time. I was fucked financially over something that wasn't even a real law, but I didn't have the time or money to fight it out with the federal government in court. I'm glad someone else did. Hopefully this will open things up to me getting back into the business, because it was really a hell of a lot of fun, and profitable.

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