Others use them for their jobs – a great way to take a survey of your land or monitor your crops, huge ones are used for agricultural spraying, and others have been used to track wildebeests on their annual migration in search of greener pastures.
For search and rescue – who wouldn’t be delighted to have a visit from a drone when you are laying with a broken leg at the bottom of a ravine, or adrift at sea, lost without a paddle. They could be used for following someone wandering round with mental health issues, so they can be met and bought to safety. Traffic monitoring is another area where they can help, pinpointing traffic snarl-ups before they gridlock a city, or tracking someone speeding in a 60k zone. I read recently of a council defending its use of drones to snoop on planning disputes by claiming they stop staff being attacked by angry homeowners. Yes, they have their uses.
I had a close encounter with one recently, suddenly becoming aware of one hovering above me, watching me put something my car. My dog spotted it first, barking and looking up, and I followed his line of vision and there it was, a dark, sinister-looking spy in the sky, instantly recognisable by the motionless crab-look and buzzy noise even I could hear. It felt like an invasion of my privacy – I had no idea who was controlling it, what interest it had in me or why, and it felt spooky and distinctly uncomfortable. It turned out to be harmless, someone having a test run with a new toy, and I just briefly caught their attention - no doubt totally unaware of how it had creeped me out once I had noticed it.
Drones are becoming more and more popular these days, even flying clubs are opening where like-minded folk can meet and compare their devices and their abilities. Miniaturisation has made it possible for drones to fit inside a rucksack or even your hand, which makes them our best ally in very different scenarios: they can detect water leakages, help predict the weather, speed up electricity grid inspection and maintenance tasks. The prices of these little aerial wizards vary according to what they can do - a serious piece of kit can cost thousands of euros. Drone programming has developed software that enables drones to fly autonomously and to even make decisions and execute tasks without human intervention.
But there are rules to be followed, but who follows them, or more importantly, who monitors them? Portugal is a part of the EU and therefore must abide by the drone regulations put in place by the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). In addition to these regulations, Portugal also has its own regulations. For example - drones, regardless of weight, must not be flown over concentrations of more than 12 persons in the open air (there goes spying on your neighbour’s noisy pool party), and to complicate matters further, the drone operator and the remote pilot may be two different people: the drone operator is the person that is registered and is responsible for the operation (normally, it is the owner of the drone) – the remote pilot is the person that is actually controls the drone.
And in the news a while back, hundreds of flights were cancelled at Gatwick Airport, following reports of drone sighting close to the runway.
They have a more serious (or sinister?) side too, with military grade drones being used for surveillance and reconnaissance in covert operations and target acquisition, some enormous enough to carry military ordnance. Thermal sensor drones can be used for heat detection, sadly having a place in war as well as search and rescue.
I suppose we will get used to them in time, as more and more take to the skies, so watch out for them watching you!