My son got a drone for his recent birthday, and I have to say I’ve really enjoyed it.
I’m not really sure how much he’s piloted the drone, mostly because he would have to tear the control out of my hands. This four-bladed drone is everything I wished for as a child in the ‘70s, when the concept of remote-controlled aircraft far outpaced the performance of said vehicles.
I’m sure between my four siblings and me we had more than 30 different remote-controlled airplanes, helicopters, cars, motorcycles, boats and robots. With very few exceptions they all really sucked. Way back when, the only RC toys that actually worked well cost more than Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. The “affordable” versions that landed under our Christmas trees or next to birthday cakes were sketchier.
The kids on the boxes were always having a blast with their RC planes and helicopters, but once they were out of the box and the remotes and aircraft were loaded with their D-size batteries, we never achieved that same level of fun tacitly promised on the packaging. (There’s probably a tasteless joke about D-sized fun and packaging to be made here, but I’m too classy for that. If you need such filth I suggest turning to Ashley’s column.)
I distinctly remember one RC helicopter wheeling off into the Christmas tree or nearest bush every time I tried to launch it. I also once had a car that only turned right. It was designed that way. There was no steering wheel on the remote, you just squeezed it and the car would pop to the right, so making a slight course adjustment to the left required an almost-380-degree turn. Good times.
But the point — assuming there is one — of this column isn’t to beat up on the failed RC toys of yesteryear. Those were days when TVs were still furniture and “Pong” was the hottest video game on the market. People were more easily amused back then. We didn’t really expect toys to work. We just “imagined” they worked or left them out in the rain because they didn’t.
These drones, though … I mean, even a relatively cheap one can actually hover, fly where you want it to go and take off and land. That’s pretty amazing for all of us who grew up at any time during the past 50 years with bunk RC toys. I’m not saying I can actually perform all of these functions with my boy’s drone, but in this case at least it’s operator error and not a shortcoming on the toy’s part.
The only real problem I see with having a drone around the house is the social stigma it carries. The first thing everyone asks when you say you’ve been flying a drone is, “Does it have a camera?” People are either terrified by or creepily excited about drones. Maybe it’s because we’ve spent the last several years reading about the government using drones to spy on or even kill people.
When I was flying my son’s drone last week I accidentally flew it into the neighbor’s yard and got it stuck in a bush. The last thing I wanted to do was knock on the door and have the neighbor answer in her bathrobe and have to say, “Ummm, I was flying my drone in your backyard and it got stuck. Can I go get it?” I just ended up sneaking back there and grabbing it as quickly as possible so I didn’t look like a creep. If it was a Frisbee I would’ve knocked.
It’s kind of hard not to have that knee-jerk reaction about drones because it’s pretty easy to imagine a skilled operator easily hovering one outside a bathroom or bedroom window. As drones become more prevalent I’d imagine these fears will only grow.
Even as I write this, Amazon is pushing forward with plans to deliver packages weighing up to 5 pounds via a 55-pound drone. That’s right, they’re proposing the airspace from 200-400 feet above terra firma be dedicated to delivery drones hauling boxes from warehouses to front doors. Of course the drones would be allowed below the 200-foot deck for landing, taking off and snapping nudie photos of you showering.
It’s amazing to think that in a few years it’s likely Mobile’s gorgeous oak trees will be filled with the rusted-out frames of drones shot from the sky as they delivered diapers, groceries and beer. It’s the only logical progression. If you’re John Q. Criminal out for a night’s score, what makes more sense, holding up someone who might have his own gun and blow a hole in your head, or shooting a drone out of the sky and seeing what it was hauling?
The thought of hundreds or thousands of 55-pound drones zipping along overhead carrying something heavy enough to kill you IS rather disconcerting. As a novice drone captain, I can only imagine how tough it would be to pilot one of those bad boys 10 miles carrying a case of Bud Light without smashing through a window, but I suppose all that’s for the technical people and lawyers to work out.
In the meantime, kids my son’s age should practice drone flying skills like taking off, landing and getting unstuck from a pine tree so they’ll be prepared for cool summer jobs as deliverymen who don’t have to sweat — maybe even at the swank new $15-an-hour minimum wage people are so excited about.
All they’ll need to do is get us dads to hand over the remote controls for a bit.