Last Sunday was a beautifully glorious day in Seattle, and my boyfriend and I decided to enjoy it by having a picnic at Magnuson Park. We weren’t the only ones who had that idea. Soon, we were joined by families with kites, couples with dogs, Frisbee-throwers, and guitar-players. As we lay on the grass eating strawberries and looking out at the water, our serene scene was suddenly punctuated by what sounded like a loud, motorized mosquito. Soon enough, a black object zipped through the air around our heads. And then another one. And then another. WWWWHHHHHHRRRrrrrrrrrrr.
They were drones.
We couldn’t see who or what was operating these tiny plastic vehicles. But 'round and 'round they went, in a huge circle. This buzzing continued long enough to encourage us to seek another lawn to hang out on. We packed up our things and headed up the hill, where we came upon the drone operators—three dudes, one who wasn’t even facing the water and seemingly wasn’t watching where his drone was going. As we got closer to them, we noticed that the guy not facing his drone was actually wearing a virtual-reality headset.
The Verge calls these virtual-reality drones a “delicious combination,” “wild and unique.” And I’m sure they are for the user. But for those nearby, they are annoying as fuck.
And we couldn’t escape them, even relocating to the next lawn over. Nor could a couple trying to have a conversation about relationships. Their small dogs were freaked out, too. Hours later, we thought we had freed ourselves from this high-tech annoyance, only to encounter another group of dudes (and gals) with … ANOTHER DRONE. FML.
These drone bros played the fun trick where they shot the drone straight up in the air, let go of the controls, and then reengaged the drone right before it seemed like it would crash into the ground, sometimes right above our heads.
Is this the future of parks?
Now, I get that parks are public space and should be enjoyed by everyone. And some of those people want to fly kites or throw Frisbees or talk on their phones. I have no interest in restricting the rights of people to enjoy parks as they like, however, drones pose a new problem—that of the complete obliteration of personal space. They can fly right over you, and supposedly we shouldn’t be worried because (you hope) their operator is in complete control of them. There is also the issue of noise pollution, as these suckers aren’t quiet. Part of my enjoyment of going to a park is being able to get away (even a little bit) from the artificial noise of a city. Not anymore.
There’s also privacy to consider. We couldn’t tell whether these drones were equipped with cameras or not, but it certainly made the experience of enjoying a picnic with a loved one more tense. If there was video, what were they seeing? What were they recording? Where would the video end up?
The FAA provides guidelines for model aircraft operations (i.e., consumer-grade drones). Among them:
• Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
• Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
• Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
• Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying
• Don't fly near people or stadiums
• Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs
• Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft
But operators of these consumer-grade drones do not need permission to fly them, nor are there any restrictions on taking photos (as long as they are for “personal use”).
It's also unclear how to make a complaint if you see someone breaking FAA guidelines.
And it's certain that drones will become more and more prevalent in everyday life, whether you like it or not. If Amazon gets its way, soon we’ll have packages delivered by drone. Drones will deliver our food. And probably police us.
Until then, enjoy silence while you can.