The dark side of drones

Drones can let us see things we otherwise could not view and deliver goods to remote or dangerous areas. They can fight fires. That’s all well and good. The downside is that they can get in the way of other aircraft and cause injury to people or damage property.

The world saw both extremes last week. On Friday, the first FAA-approved drone delivery of medical supplies to a remote Virginia clinic took place without a hitch.

But within 24 hours, drones (aka unmanned aerial vehicles) were blamed for impeding fire fighters’ efforts to contain a wildfire that jumped Interstate 15 in southern California, burning some 30 vehicles and sending some drivers running for their lives, according to CNN and others. The presence of five drones caused the grounding of fire-fighting aircraft for about 25 minutes, delaying emergency responders.

This was the third time that firefighters in San Bernardino county, California, were obstructed by drone activity, according to Slate.

Snafus like these are one reason the FAA has been going slow in approving widespread drone use, much to the chagrin of Amazon(AMZN),Google(GOOG) and other companies hoping to use them for delivery.

Thus far, commercial drones are limited to daytime flight of altitudes to 500 feet. And, they must be in the line of sight of their operators.

But clearly, given the fire incident and others, consumers want to fly their drones, for better or worse.

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