Last week a drone flew on the floor of Congress as lawmakers debate how to safely integrate this new breed of aircraft into the US skies. Last night, a drone crash-landed on the White House lawn, sending the Secret Service scrambling to assess the threat. It's safe to assume this isn't the industry's idea of lobbying the FAA.
This afternoon we learned the craft was none other than the DJI Phantom, our favorite drone. That's no surprise. The unit has become the Kleenex of drones. It appears on South Park. It does promotions at TGI Fridays. It's perfect for capturing scenic aerial footage of the capitol, until suddenly it's not.
From harmless fun to federal crime in the blink of an eye
As we highlighted this Christmas, drones are becoming an increasingly popular toy. That's largely thanks to Moore's Law, which has made drones cheaper, more powerful, and simpler to fly with every passing year. Unfortunately simpler often means that people who own and fly drones don't always fly responsibly. The unit's GPS can help it to stabilize against the wind and return home if loses a connection to its pilot.
Accident avoidance is on the way
At CES this year we saw breakthrough technology that lets drones be aware of their surroundings and intelligently avoid obstacles. Until that sense and avoid technology become mainstream, however, drones that lose their GPS signal, or are being flown beyond the pilot's line of sight, are prone to accidents.
The Secret Service has now released a statement saying that the pilot called them this morning to identify himself as the culprit, describing the crash as a simple error during a recreational flight. Hey man, we've been there.