It’s been a quiet revolution so far … but the multiplying number of pilotless drones soaring through Australian skies is set to have an increas­ing impact on all of our lives.

Crystal ball gazers have already speculated that the ‘Unmanned Aerial Systems’ still most commonly associ­ated with military operations will one day fly out of cars to let motorists know about po­tential traffic jams or accidents up ahead.

Grey nomads, we are told, may find them useful to check out how big and how busy the campsites they are planning to stop at are.

And the idea is not as fanciful as it may first appear.

Small drones can be assembled from components ordered online from overseas and it is simply unknown how many of these are in Australia. Howev­er, experts speculate that there may be as many as 100 new multi-rotors and fixed wing drones taking to our skies each week.

As the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s John McCormick so succinctly put it: “The cat’s out of the bag long, long ago.”

People can legally fly the craft as a hobby as long as they stay below 400 feet, operate only in daylight, and stay well away from airports and highly populated areas.

Apparently, for around $2,000, enthusiasts can buy a small, multi-rotor craft equipped with HD live stream video cameras, GPS, and which boast a top speed of 70 kilo­metres per hour. The flying range is reportedly up to three kilometres.

Apart from spotting traffic jams, drones have a lot of po­tential positive uses including searching for missing people, carrying out scientific research and, from a grey nomad per­spective, taking amazing foot­age of the Big Lap adventure.

However, there are concerns. A month or two ago, an ath­lete competing in a triathlon near Geraldton, Western Aus­tralia, was apparently hit by an out-of-control drone. And, in Brazil, one recently crashed into a crowd at a soccer match. Experts says the experience might be described as being similar to being hit by a small flying lawn mower.

However, the biggest concern really centres around privacy. Do grey nomads really want to be photographed from above while they are sunbathing in what they thought was Out­back solitude?

And, as the devices’ popularity grows, so do the issues. In the US, Yosemite National Park and Zion National Park have just warned visitors who fly unmanned aircraft that they could receive a six-month jail sentence or face a $5,000 fine.

The US National Park Service says drones are a daily sight and sound in national parks.

“Drones can be extremely noisy, and can impact the natural soundscape,” it said. “Drones can also impact the wilderness experience for other visitors, creating an en­vironment that is not condu­cive to wilderness travel.”

Apparently, visitors can still use iPods, iPads, and any hand-held cameras … but drones have to stay at home.


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