Philip Penrose of Gulfport knows members of the public have a lot of concerns about drones, and he wants to dispel some misconceptions.
Many people feel personal drones – manned remotely and often equipped with cameras – pose a threat to privacy, can be are dangerous if they whack someone, or are just plain “stupid,” Penrose said Monday, February 22.
“I think it’s basically fear of the unknown,” the long-time city resident and self-described geek said. “I want to spread the word that these aren’t terrible things.”
With this in mind, Penrose set up a website, GulfportDrones.com, that he hopes will inspire other area drone operators to band together to promote responsible and safe use of the crafts.
Penrose, who has spent the last 30 years in computer repair and education, bought his first drone last summer on a lark and is now a hardcore convert. An amateur photographer, he’s enamored by the opportunities drones offer in that area.
“If they didn’t have cameras, I probably wouldn’t have one,” he says.
As drones have become cheaper and more popular among recreational users – the cheapest models can sell for less than $100 – media has become rife with stories of people doing dumb or dangerous things with them. So-called rogue drones have been reported injuring bystanders at festivals, sneaking drugs into a prison, interfering with aircraft putting out wildfires, and nearly crashing into commercial airliners. There are also stories about irate individuals shooting them out of the sky and physically attacking their operators.
Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent said that so far he wasn’t aware of any calls about drones in Gulfport. However, he said, “Some of my colleagues in other cities have expressed concerns about enforcement, as local law enforcement agencies do not have the authority to enforce federal regulations.”
Exactly what those regulations are is a little unclear.
“It’s like the Wild West in the sense that there are no laws written in stone,” Penrose said.
The Federal Aviation Administration just started requiring hobbyists to register their drones in December. Other than that, it has a list of “safety guidelines” stating that operators must fly their drones below 400 feet, always keep the craft in sight, stay at least five miles away from airports, don’t interfere with manned aircraft, don’t fly near people or stadiums, and don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 pounds.
Meanwhile, a Florida law that went into effect last July 1 bans drones from recording people or their property in private places such as their back yards without their permission. Enforcement, of course, is another matter.
Drones, which are also referred to as quadcopters or unmanned aerial vehicles and range in size from an inch to that of a commercial jet, also are in widespread use by the U.S. military. They also have many commercial applications – giant retailer Amazon, for instance, plans to use drones to deliver purchases to its customers – though the federal government currently has strict licensing requirements for businesses.
Penrose demonstrated the capabilities of his personal drone, a Typhoon Yuneec Q500+CG02+Camera, to this reporter who had never seen one up close, at the green behind the Gulfport Recreation Center. The drone, which weighs four pounds when fully equipped with camera and battery and is some 15 inches square, costs about $1,000 and is linked via GPS to more than a dozen satellites.
What first struck this reporter was an annoying buzz that elicited visions of a gigantic mosquito waiting to land on her arm. But the quad danced gracefully in the air like a mechanical, winged ballerina, and responded immediately to Penrose’s slightest touch of the control panel, turning slowly to the left or right, up or down.
“It can also just stay there like a good dog,” he said.
Penrose, 61, who attributes his youthful looks to the fact that he likes to “play with toys,” still isn’t sure what he wants to do with his newly found love.
“To me, it’s something new to learn,” he said. “There are all kinds of possibilities.”