Published on The Bubble
Those little robotic friends that hover above our heads and give us endless fun. And sometimes they can also give us beautiful gifts like this.
Argentina’s new regulation on “unmanned aerial vehicles” caused a ruckus a few weeks ago since suddenly we all learned that the use of some of these devices was being regulated. As several media outlets warned about the impending death of our new favorite gadget, everyone was freaking out. Who was going to be taking beautiful aerial shots of Buenos Aires from now on if no one had access to flying drones anymore?
I feel your pain, but (surprise!) those reports were mostly incorrect.
First, let me clarify. Technically, not everything we call “drones” are, in fact, drones. This is because some can be programmed to fly on their own and do not need someone to control them, while others do need a human being to control them via a smartphone or joystick. (The latter are not drones, technically, but we’ll use this word for simplicity’s sake in this article).
So we have:
- Unmanned, fixed-wing aerial vehicles: For military use, they kind of look like small planes.
- Multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicles: Quadcopters that can have 4, 6 or 8 rotor propellers. They are frequently used for farm measuring and professional filming.
- Manned aerial vehicles: These are the ones you know (and maybe own.) They are used recreationally. The most popular are Parrot Ar Drones and Phantom DJIs. They are “manned” because they need to be driven and cannot be programmed. As with all tech toys, you can’t fit a person in them. (Except for Ant Man. He would fit, but that’s a different story.)
This new so-called controversial regulation applies to “every person who intends to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle and remotely piloted aircraft” and states that each person must hold an authorization issued by the Civil Aviation National Administration (ANAC), which regulates the Argentine airspace.
The reasoning behind such regulation is that, when dealing with drones, private property and privacy come into question.
Tech specialist and college professor Joan Cwaik is a drone expert who told me that when talking about aerial vehicles, some of the issues that immediately arise include the invasion of private property, airspace congestion, people-stalking, the taking of unauthorized photographs and allowing a potential terrorist organization to avoid checkpoints.
In the US, drones must always be within the operator’s sight; an operator must be over 17 years old; and night flights are forbidden. Also, operators must pass a test in order to fly them. However, he explained, this does not apply to “very small drones” (as they are called when they weigh less than two kilos), which means Parrot Ar Drones and Phantom DJIs, the most commercially used drones and that you probably own, are not affected by these restrictions. Which is not such a bad deal.
But what about regulation in Argentina?
Under this new set of rules, drones here must be manned by people over 18. If they are under 16, they must be supervised by an adult. Also, if there are other people around, drones should keep a horizontal distance of at least 30 meters and a vertical distance of at least 10 meters.
Cwaik added that in some areas – such as airports, jails or national communication entities that wire signals – drones will be strictly forbidden, which is understandable because you don’t want them running into commercial airplanes or delivering chocolates to prisoners.
In Argentina, we’re in love with drones. News networks use them, video producers use them, thebarrabravas use them and citizen journalists use them to cover protests (and if you want to nitpick, truth is the regulation is not clear about the use of drones during massive demonstrations or marches.)
But some other professional users have expressed the need for greater regulation in farm measuring, surveillance, movie filming, tax evasion control.
And Cwaik agrees that it is necessary, since he considers that this new legislation is a step forward to helping local entrepreneurship.
Along with cars, drones will be at the core of city planning these next few years. Even though it is quite tough to regulate these vehicles, it is certainly progress,” Cwaik told me, although he also warned that there are some grey areas around this, such as their coexistence with the radio spectrum and other aircrafts.
“We cannot ignore the new paradigm of massive surveillance and new concerns about privacy that continue to grow as this kind of technology expands, many times crossing ethical and moral boundaries.”
Cwaik added that “technology is moving at exponential speeds, bringing all kinds of social, economic and political changes. For corporations and entrepreneurs, regulations are prosperous on a first approach, even more if we consider this kind of technology projections towards a near future.”
In the meantime, don’t freak out. The new regulation targets the kind of drone that you probably don’t have, unless you’re the head of the Army or an internationally-acclaimed film director. You don’t need to get a license, registration or psychophysical exam before you can take your little flying gadget to the Palermo parks.
Keep calm and drone on.