The future of drones - WNCN: News, Weather

The future of drones

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Courtesy: Joseph Brown III Courtesy: Joseph Brown III

Kevin Starkey's dreams as a little boy shape his hobby still.

"One of my earliest childhood memories is having a dream that I could run so fast that I could start running and I could start flying," Kevin remembers.

That dream of soaring over his house is now a reality in a way. Kevin is one of the Bay area's leading hobbyists when it comes to flying quadcopters. Many people know them as "drones", but hobbyists generally use that word only to refer to military craft.

"These are quite powerful," Kevin said. "There's many different sizes of them and some can lift several pounds of payload."

His quadcopter is very high-tech. With a GoPro camera mounted to the bottom of it, Kevin flies his copter with point of view goggles. So as he sits in places like public parks, it is like he's literally flying over Florida's ponds and lakes.

"Just like anything else - when cell phones with cameras first came out - there was concerns about privacy and safety," he said.

Florida has already taken steps because of those concerns. Last year lawmakers passed an act that requires a judge to give an okay before police departments can use them. States across the country like Connecticut are considering tougher penalties for people who use them for things they shouldn't.

"The number one concern is privacy, right," said State Rep. James Albis, (D) Connecticut, in a recent interview. "Drones make it a lot easier to be able to stalk somebody, engage in voyeurism activities."

But those who build and use the drones, like Kevin, see endless possibilities for good like helping during search and rescue operations for instance. He envisions fire departments using them to even get rope to someone who needs it or rescue teams flying a craft for to search for someone who's missing.

"This could actually go out and land and drop off a survival pack to somebody if you found them and gave time people to get (to them) by foot, by horseback," he said.

Zachary Buendia is a Tampa hobbyist who has also gotten into flying. He said there are clubs that meet and he's seeing a growing interest in UAVs.

"I taught a 72-year-old man just the other day how to fly ... was flying in 5 minutes," he said.

Buendia said the costs of the crafts have gone down considerably, which is helping fuel interest in the hobby. Tiny UAVs are available for under $100. Large craft like Zachary and Kevin fly range from the hundreds up to thousands of dollars, depending on the extra accessories.

"I've got 3 boys... and they enjoy them too. So it's fun really for everybody," Buendia said. "Any one could learn how to fly."

How do you keep the public safe with these things in the air? The regulation of drones is in a gray area right now, but the Federal Aviation Administration has recommended guidelines as it works toward a more permanent solution.

For now, the FAA suggests hobbyists stay under 400 feet and should stay away from populated areas and airports. There should be more permanent standards within the next couple years.

Kevin and others believe the commercial use of drones could provide a new industry once those guidelines are set in stone.

"There's a side of it that's kind of being overlooked because everybody's concerned about privacy," he said. "Once those standards get put in place. I think people will also realize - these people have guidelines they have to fly by."

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