Drones in Your Backyard: Real-world Applications and Legal Ramifications

Drones in Your Backyard: Real-world Applications and Legal Ramifications

August 26

Drones are perhaps best known for their use in military operations. Despite being widespread, that usage continues to be controversial due to the reputation they’ve earned as “death machines” that help foster terror rather than neutralize it. While global militaries plan how unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology can be used more effectively on the battlefield, drones have quietly made their way to consumer central.

I kid you not, you can go out and buy your very own drone as we speak – after reading this post, of course. Made by DJI, the Phantom 2 Vision is one of the most popular models available to consumers. This drone is a quadcopter armed with an awesome camera, full HD capturing capabilities, sharing features, and seamless integration with your smartphone. Right now it retails for about $1300, which actually isn’t too bad if you have a plan for getting your money’s worth.

The power to play with a drone is at your fingertips. Now is the perfect time to look at some potentially useful applications on both the consumer and commercial side of the fence.

Learning to Fly  

It’s probably a good idea to learn how to fly a drone before buying one and crashing it through your neighbor’s window. A few universities have come up with the brilliant idea to capitalize on the knowledge aspect by offering UAV training classes. The University of North Dakota is one of the first schools in the U.S. to launch training courses for aspiring drone pilots. Then there are specialized learning programs offered by independent instructors like Jeff Foster, who teaches students how to use drones to capture breathtaking photos and videos from the sky.

Aerial Photography

The emergence of consumer-friendly drones has sparked a genuine interest in aerial photography. And believe it or not, lucrative career opportunities exist for those who learn to master the craft. CBS recently featured the story of a couple who hired aerial photographer Dale Steirman to shoot their wedding via drone. Equipped with the camera on his quadcopter, Steirman is carving out his very own niche in the photography realm by delivering truly unique wedding photos that for now at least, newlyweds can only obtain from a select few sources. Talk about a competitive edge!

Advanced Sports Intelligence

The sports world is harnessing some of the most impressive technologies known to man. You can now add drones to the list. Using them to capture aerial footage and aid in crafting promotional content are merely bonuses, according to ESPN. The real value lies in analytics. UCLA football head coach Jim Mora admitted that drones provide an effective way to gather data that can’t be collected by traditional means, information that is useful on both sides of the ball. The world-wide leader of sports also reported that drones are being used in surfing, snowboarding, and even high school sports.

Bolstered Real Estate Value

Drones are popping their unmanned heads up in some areas you may least expect – like the real estate industry. According to SFGate, they are already quite popular with Bay Area realtors, who use them to enhance the appeal of properties on the market. This region is an ideal setting for such an application as well placed aerial shots give potential buyers a holistic view of the hills, beaches, ocean, and all a given property has to offer. The piece also highlighted how well drones perform at capturing interior and exterior shots of homes.

Drones in and Around the Home

Theoretically, drones can be useful in the same way we take advantage of other technologies by helping us be lazy. This video on OneGreenPlanet suggests that they may come in handy for people who physically can’t, or simply don’t feel like walking the dog around the block. Pooped from partying all day long? Command your drone to fly cocktails across the backyard to you and your guests. Drones are already being used to tend bar in one Las Vegas establishment, so when it comes to doing chores you just don’t feel like dealing with, the sky is the limit.

Pump the Aerial Brakes

UAV and drones

Photo Credit: Lian Pin Koh via Flickr


Drones definitely reek of awesomeness, but you can’t deny that something this cool has the potential to be dangerous in the wrong hands. What’s stopping an unscrupulous jackwagon from using their aerial accomplice to play super creep and snapping candid photos of girls at the community pool? Who’s to say the paparazzi won’t become even more annoying by using them to infringe on the privacy of celebrities and other people in attempt to score some photogenic cash? You would like to think that laws exist to nip this type of stuff in the bud, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

As far as personal use goes, drones are comparable to the internet in the sense that they are practically unregulated. Sure, you can still find yourself in hot water for injuring someone or breaching existing privacy laws, but specific regulations for personal usage are virtually nonexistent. While there are guidelines recommending that they stay in your line of sight and not be deployed in the vicinity of spectators or airports, it appears that lawmakers are counting on consumers to exercise a combination of decency and common sense. Things are totally different on the commercial side.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) explicitly prohibits the use of drones for commercial use. This is the very reason Amazon’s dreams of a UAV-powered Prime Air service have been grounded for the time being. As it stands, aerial photographers, sports teams, realtors, clubs, and others are taking a gamble in using drones to accommodate business needs. That risk will undoubtedly become more serious as the trend evolves and flying under the radar becomes more difficult.

Drones have the potential to make a huge difference from law enforcement to disaster relief. However, due to the strong potential for abuse, the laws around hobbyist use or lack thereof, warrant cause for concern in my book. How about yours?

Top Photo Credit: Stephan Ridgway via Flickr