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PAINTER: Drones could change our way of life if used properly

• Aug 27, 2018 at 4:00 PM

I enjoyed watching the Tour de France road bicycle race held in July. It’s always fascinating to watch elite bicyclists complete the difficult 21-stage race through the countryside of France and up and down the Alps and Pyrenees mountains.

While watching the bikers pedal furiously throughout the race is the main focus, it is the scenery that captivates my attention the most. France is a beautiful, picturesque country.

Recreational drones in recent years have become popular throughout the world. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration predicts that there will be 7 million recreational drones in use by 2020, a 2.5 million increase from 2016.

My first recollection of drones was when our military used them to strike targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now drones are making their mark in everyday life.

Drones can have some useful purposes. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos already has made it known that he hopes someday to use drones to deliver packages to homes. Drones are already proving to be useful for farmers in monitoring crops, and for aerial views of sporting events such as the World Cup and Olympics.

Drones also have been useful in rescue operations, following disasters or other emergencies. Drones appear to have a bright future if used properly.

Before drones became popular, people had to use expensive helicopters to get aerial photographs or videos or for rescue operations

I remember one time when the Grand Haven Tribune hired a pilot to get aerial photographs of landmarks throughout Northwest Ottawa County. I don’t remember the cost, but I am sure it wasn’t cheap.

When I worked in Del Rio, Texas, my editor rented a helicopter to get photographs of a train derailment at a remote location not too far from the city. It took much convincing by my editor to get our publisher to agree to foot the bill.

Now, the news media can get those same kinds of photos and videos at much less of a cost. There are some that predict drones will be as common as automobiles. Perhaps so, but there are some dangers with drones.

We’ve read or heard about commercial airplanes having close encounters with drones. According to an article written by Elizabeth Quntana for the London Telegraph, a drone crashed into a plane approaching Heathrow Airport. The plane did manage to land safely with no one injured, but it was a dangerous situation.

According to an article in the Detroit News, a number of police agencies are using drones “to get a bird’s-eye view of accidents and crime scenes. The News reported law enforcement officials saying that drones allow them to search areas faster for missing persons or fugitives.

But not everyone is on board with law enforcement’s extensive use of drones.

A spokesperson for The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan told the The News that drones have the potential of invading people’s privacy.

There have been incidents where neighbors have shot down drones flying in their yards. The New York Times reported a case in which a man shot down a neighbor’s drone. He told police the drone had been spying on his daughter who was sunbathing by the pool. He was arrested, but the judge ruled that the man had a right to shoot down the drone.

The FAA now requires drones to be registered as a way of reducing potential threats to property and people.

I can see how drones can be useful tools for the military and police. But we also must be careful not to infringe upon the privacy of others.

As the number of drones proliferate, there will need to be stricter rules as to their use. I’ve never seen a drone fly by our house, but I wouldn’t be too happy if one did.

It will be interesting to see how much drones impact our future.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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