13News Now Investigation: Drones for personal use


by LaSalle Blanks, 13News now


Posted on April 28, 2014 at 11:31 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 24 at 11:49 AM

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Kodak had its moment. Now, look out for drones.

"They're great," said Rob Mendoza ,who just bought a drone. "You have that view from the sky that you don't get anywhere else."

The drones look like mini helicopters you can hold in your hand. They buzz around almost anywhere you want them to go. You guide them using a GPS remote control. At your direction, the wings light up and off they fly. They're equipped with a camera so you can shoot videos or take still pictures and post them online to various social media sites.  

Jimmy Olivera says the technology takes his picture-taking abilities to new heights...literally.

"When I was a kid I loved Superman so I always wanted to fly," Jimmy said. "And this is the perfect way to actually get that aerial view."

13News Now went on test runs with Jimmy. His drone was able to leap King Neptune in a single bound at the Oceanfront, and soar over Virginia Beach at Town Center. The drones give
photography buffs a bird's-eye view.  

"I call it drone therapy," Jimmy said. "There's nothing like having a stressful day and then coming out flying in the park and letting everything go."

That drone therapy could be big business for Virginia in the future. In published reports in the Virginian-Pilot, Senator Mark Warner said drones "could be the beginnings of an industry every bit as large as the telecommunications explosion 30 years ago."

In that Pilot article, the senator went on to say: "We need to recognize this is a chance for Virginia to be at the cutting edge of a huge, new industry. It's not only about where these vehciles are going to fly, but it's also going to be about where they are designed and built."

The Department of Transportation estimates there will be 250,000 civilian and military drones in the U.S. by 2035. SpaceDaily Magazine reports the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) says the unmanned aircraft industry could create more than 70,000 new jobs in the first three years following the integration of unmanned aircraft systems into U.S. airspace in 2015. More than 100,000 new jobs could be created by 2025.

Virginia Tech has been chosen as one of six test sites across the country for drones as the Federal Aviation Administration drafts policies for their use. Federal officials hope to have the policies for personal drones developed by sometime next year. Right now, there are no stated regulations specifically covering drones for personal, non-military use. The FAA recently lost a case at UVA after it sued a photographer who was flying what he called a model airplane to make a promotional video. With no regulations in place for personal drone use, the sky's the limit.

However, there are safety and privacy concerns.

Last August, a man was injured after a drone fell out of the sky and onto a crowd watching a race in Dinwiddie County. Others fear criminals could use them to spy on people. 

"That's a way that criminals could absolutely use this technology to benefit them," said Portsmouth Det. Misty Holley. "Drones are definitely a pain for police."

Holley fears they would be flown over crime scenes, or standoff scenes -- giving away police positions and maneuvers.

"That could also put our officers at risk," she said.

But when questioned how she could police this with curious onlookers flying drones:
"I dont know at this point I really don't know the technology is so new," she said.

Companies like Facebook and Google are looking to cash in on the new technology and what the future may bring with it. Some say drones could take the place of police robots or help firefighters by going into dangerous areas to send back vital images. Even some TV stations are looking at drones to replace expensive TV news helicopters.

Retailers are toying with the idea of using the high-flying technology to transport and deliver light items to consumers. As for now, it is illegal to use drones for commercial purposes in the U.S.

Jimmy sees drones revoutionizing photography in the future. They could cost the average picture-taker $1,400 and professionals between $5,000 and $30,000.