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The drone debate

  • By David

Justin Smith holding a newspaper with a photo of a drone next to our hex

We recently checked into a hotel after a day of film production in Central Oregon, and we were carrying our small rig, a hex multiroter helicopter with a GoPro. The front desk clerk’s eyes widened and she asked, with more curiosity than angst, what the hell we were carrying.

We started to explain when Justin noted the newspaper right on the counter, and there was a picture of another hexacopter under the headline “Senate lawmakers debate drones’ future.” We laughed and handed her the article to read. She found it all rather fascinating.

It seems that aerial video rigs strike fear into certain groups of citizens, though it’s odd because in our extensive production trips we’ve never encountered that emotion. Mostly folks are curious and in many cases intensely interested when we’re shooting from an RC heli.  Even our big beast, an 800 that can carry a production camera, people are often so excited that they want to march right up to it while we caution them to keep a safe distance.

What was once military technology can now be used by children and I’m sure a generation growing up with drones — my kids launch them in the park on weekends — will find better uses than I could ever think of. 

Chris Anderson, Time

So where is the concern coming from? Where’s the other side in the debate? My sense is that those with privacy concerns are a small but vocal minority with a sophisticated outreach and lobby infrastructure who’ve applied knee-jerk logic to the whole scenario.

The economic benefits of aerial RC and “drone” technology are huge. The New Yorker had the best analysis I’ve seen yet.

For us, it adds a huge cinematic, creative layer to our film production work. And Oregon is the perfect place to exercise this new dimension of filmmaking, given our spectacular landscape.


I hope our Oregon House and Senate take up wise legislation. I think the drone debate is actually good. For one thing, it’s raising the profile of the technology. It’s increasing curiosity and spurring conversation about the creative beneficial uses. It’s a fine line, because clumsy legislation could stifle the economic benefits, leaving Oregon behind neighbor states at a time when our economy needs a shot in the arm.

I’d be totally on board for some type of RC pilot certification for commercial users. Perhaps a small annual licensing fee that would discourage random and reckless use and recognize the expertise of professionals. Certainly protecting privacy should be part of any legislation. Aerial cienma

Drones will someday be an essential part of agriculture. With an increasing population and declining arable land, we’re going to need all the help we can get to feed the world. And if drones can help us do it with less environmental impact, that’s a good thing.

Drones can be used to more precisely spray crops, keep track of growth rates and hydration, and identify possible outbreaks of disease before they spoil a harvest.

Nick Traverse, New Yorker 

Be wise, lawmakers. Don’t be reactionary or swayed by uninformed conspiracy theorists or special interest groups. Listen to the real people on the ground floor, conducting agricultural research and celebrating Oregon’s landscape through aerial imagery. Or even the folks just out flying for fun.

Sure, RC helicopters can be dangerous. But so can two thousand pound hunks of metal hurtling along concrete at sixty-five miles an hour. Regulate them sensibly, not from a reactionary or paranoid standpoint.

Let the debate continue.

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