SUNNYVALE (KPIX 5) — A Bay Area tech company has developed an autonomous drone that can follow your every move, but in doing so, manufacturers may be exploiting a drone-law loop hole.
If there is one industry where the law has had trouble keeping pace with technology, its drones.
The Airdog 2 or AD2 for short is one of a number of next-generation, hands-free drones that promise to take selfies to the next level, all while buzzing through a gray area of the law.
There are basically two ways to fly the Airdog 2.
The first option involves the user physically entering in the flight path, either by literally walking and logging the path or by entering the coordinates and altitudes on Google Earth.
Once in the air, Airdog tracks the user’s location using a long-range bluetooth wristwatch. Airdog stays on its flight path, and keeps the camera pointed at the user the whole time.
KPIX 5 put the Airdog through its paces, crisscrossing its path, going through trees, speeding up and slowing down.
Airdog seemed to follow just fine from the side, the front and even tracked our motion as we disappeared under a canopy of leaves and branches.
In fact, during the tryout at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale with co-founder Edgar Rozentals running the route several times, the Airdog hit all its marks.
“You need your hands to enjoy your activity, right? So that’s why our concept is to go fully hands free,” explained Rozentals.
The second option is the “follow-me mode.” The user sets the altitude and, wherever you go, the Airdog follows.
The user can toggle the location and altitude from the wristwatch.
“Our consumer is someone who wants to go and do the sport, be outdoors, and think very little about drone flying,” said Airdog’s Agris Kipurs,
The past few months have seen a flurry of activity with companies producing hands-free drones, from the folding Hover Camera to the new DJI Spark.
FAA laws require that drone flyers maintain visual line of sight with the drone at all times. They must also be able to take control of the drone at a moment’s notice
That can be difficult to do when you’re bombing down a hillside on a snowboard and the drone is flying behind you.
“I would argue that the professional extreme sports athlete, it’s not legal for them to fly it, because they’re using the drone in furtherance of their career, their business,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor Matt Waite.
Waite is one of the country’s leading authorities on drones. He said Airdog is probably ok for the casual hobbyist pilot, as long as it is used far away from people and airports.
“If you’re expecting to build an autonomous drone and make tons and tons of money selling these to everybody, well, you’re gonna have your heart broken,” said Waite. “But it’s also the time to be working on this now, because the marketplace is there. The regulations and laws haven’t caught up, but it will.”
It’s the age-old struggle of advancing technology versus outdated laws. The public debate about hands-free drones is already happening, ready or not.
“Airdog is automated and we do believe automated is much safer than something that is flown manually,” said Kipurs. “The law obviously will need to adapt, will need to catch up. And I’m confident that it will happen.”