The idea of drones flying above our heads and tracking our every move is a spooky prospect. Just last month the Federal Aviation Administration released its drone list, which freaked out the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU. While the general public has yet to make a big fuss over this, some Texas representatives have taken action. But while they claim to be looking out for the privacy rights of its citizens, some observers say that the proposed bill goes way too far.
Take the analysis by Robots.net, for example. They write about representative Lance Gooden's proposed HB912 bill — what they say is a "badly worded" document that could conceivably "outlaw most outdoor hobby and STEM robotics activities, stop university robotics research programs, endanger commercial robotics R&D, and end many common commercial uses of robots such as commercial aerial photography."
Others are concerned that, in actuality, Texas legislators are simply looking out for corporate interests. This bill, they argue, may protect businesses who are committing environmental violations. An earlier article in PopSci expresses this concern:
On a hazy day last January, an unmanned aircraft enthusiast piloted his camera-equipped drone in the vicinity of a Dallas meatpacking plant, cruising around 400 feet in the air. To test his equipment, he took some photos of the Trinity River with a point-and-shoot camera mounted to his $75 foam airframe. When he retrieved the remote-controlled aircraft, he noticed something odd in the photos: A crimson stream, which appeared to be blood, leaking into a river tributary.
The pilot, whose name has not been released, notified Texas environmental authorities, who launched an investigation. On Dec. 26, a grand jury handed down several indictments against the owners of the Columbia Packing Company for dumping pig blood into a creek. They now face hefty fines and even prison time stemming from the water pollution, and the plant has since been shuttered. Neighbors had complained about noxious fumes and other issues for a while, according to the local news. But investigators didn't get involved until this drone pilot took his pictures.
Under a new law proposed in the Texas legislature, sponsored by a lawmaker from the Dallas suburbs, this type of activity could soon be criminal. Not the pollution—the drone.
Image: AirMedia GmbH, Zurich.