Last Year: The National Parks Service Bans Drones
In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that the national parks would be the first real battleground between private drone owners and everyone else. The only reason to buy one, after all, is to capture dynamite photos and footage. And since residential areas are off limits, places full of natural splendor, such as Yellowstone National Park or the Grand Canyon, become the obvious destination. But by June 20, the National Park Service was fed up. Drones had buzzed or otherwise unnerved rangers, park-goers, and even some animals at various locations, and the skies were only getting busier. So the service banned unmanned aircraft from being launched, flown or landed on its lands and waters.
But the pilots weren’t completely deterred. On August 2, a tourist crashed his drone into the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, possibly damaging the hot springs, which is the third largest in the world (the vehicle still hasn’t been recovered). The ban has been applied to at least two other drone operators, including a man whose DJI Phantom 2 was flying over Great Falls Park in Virginia. A full-size police chopper showed up, and chased the vehicle back to its owner. As reasonable as it is to keep unmanned aircraft out of national parks, losing some 401 locations, many of them tailor-made for aerial imagery, the nascent drone industry has a contradiction to contend with. How do you reconcile the explosion of interest in consumer drones with the relative lack of scenic places to fly? Drone sales aren’t likely to slow down in 2015, but neither are prosecutions and other forms of enforcement.
This Year: Shooting Down Drones
On January 26, a drone crashed into the White House lawn, and all hell broke loose. The inability to efficiently detect and take down rogue drones — whether piloted with malice, or, in the situation that involved the White House, drunken abandon — is now painfully clear. The FAA even went so far as to warn that the Super Bowl was a “No Drone Zone,” a statement that thankfully wasn’t put to the test, but that also seemed technically unenforcable. Models like the DJI Phantom can’t be detected by current radar systems, and their small size makes them poor targets for anything short of an open-choked shotgun blast. But the race is officially on to find viable counter-drone technology, and drone-makers are already trying to get ahead of the problem. DJI pushed out a mandatory firmware update that blocks the use of the camera on its drones, or the drones themselves, within specific no-fly zones (such as Washington D.C.). One way or another, a great many people are going to be working on hobbling or hunting down drones in 2015.