Drones can get a bad press. It feels like barely a week goes by without the press picking up on a negative story about unmanned aerial vehicles. For instance, the BBC recently reported on drones being found in the vicinity of Pentonville prison. Crafty lags had been taking delivery of drugs and smartphones, and police managed to stop two large consignments of contraband before they made it to the inmates. After just two drone incidents in prisons in 2014, the figure shot up to 33 the following year as the devices became more accessible. In a typical example of media drone stigma, the fact that these few instances are merely a drop in the ocean of smuggled goods that enter the nation’s prisons on a daily basis was lost. The focus was on the novelty of the delivery method and not the underlying problem.
Another example of drone stigma was a widely reported case of a drone apparently colliding with a passenger aircraft. After a media furore, the story was later quietly retracted. News outlets discovered that the offending article was possibly just a plastic bag. The transport minister Robert Goodwill was forced into an embarrassing climbdown, admitting that authorities were unsure of what had collided with the Airbus 320 mid-flight. Mr Goodwill went on to allay some of the drone stigma that had built up around the incident. He confirmed his belief that current drone rules are fit for purpose and that tighter controls are not needed.
Drone stigma puts some people off the hobby. It may even make them discount UAVs for some of the functions they are most suited for. Drones are reported in the media for all the wrong reasons. It’s time we hear more about their productive uses. As well as low-cost aerial photography and film-making, drones are being used in a range of other applications.
For instance, drones are becoming more popular in monitoring wildlife. They can access areas that humans cannot. They do not disturb animals like a loud aircraft would, and they can help to protect the most vulnerable species on the planet. Drones are also being used by firefighters in Kansas:
Media drone stigma is a real problem. It is at risk of damaging the public’s perception of extremely valuable devices that have many useful – and lawful – functions. It would be a shame if a few drone users tarnished the reputation of the majority.
There are many positive applications for drones – so if you fly one, then make sure you do so responsibly.