The laws governing drone use in the US right now are relatively black and white. For the most part, you either can fly, or you can't — and there's no in between. That's really limiting for the parties that can't, and, at the same time, it's really permissive for the parties that can, giving them little guidance as to where they should and shouldn't be flying.
That's a problem as drones increasingly move toward ubiquity: we don't want them everywhere, but there is very likely a more logical way to determine where they can go.
Mitchell Sipus, an urban planner doing doctoral research at Carnegie Mellon, has mocked up one idea that might be able to start to resolving some of that. He imagines the government beginning to create zoning rules specific to drones — as in, zones that they can fly in and can't fly in, and other zones where flight might be allowed only during specific times of day when there are fewer people around.
Over the weekend, Sipus mocked up what these zones might look like in Chicago, which you can see in his imagery below. He outlines the full idea in a blog post, but the gist is that green represents flight zones, red represents restricted zones, while yellow and orange zones would have time and day dependent rules. His mockups represent only a basic applications of the idea, but already there are obvious issues with how effective it could be.
"The bigger issue is: how do you enforce something like this?" Sipus says. "Are you just going to put signs all over the place? That doesn't really seem to work."
As much as the proposal has problems, it's also an important start toward thinking about what we should actually be doing with drones and how they can fit into our existing cities and towns. "Everything right now is just a reaction — and a reaction to a crappy technology," Sipus says, noting that drone technology is still very young. "[Drones] aren't even that great."
"Do we want a world full of flying robots?" Sipus says. "Now's the time to start figuring that out or what that would look like."
All images reprinted with permission of Mitchell Sipus.
- The football stadium is zoned red, perhaps for security issues or to allow the stadium to control pilot access on its own.
- Sipus zones the space around a fountain green because it's greenspace without critical infrastructure that drones could disrupt.
- Yellow and orange spaces include a museum and an aquarium, and Sipus suggests that they would be able to create their own rules that might change by day or season.