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Toy Drones: Their Promise and Their Peril

By Bill Moore

Jason Mainella and his co-founder sell nano drones, teeny toy electric flying machines in the form of RC-controlled quadracopters that fit in the palm of your hand, and they sell them for under $40. While they don't sport cameras and they're only intended as a low-cost way to learn about and fly the technology, unmanned aerial vehicles, both large and very small, already pose ethical dilemmas for society.

What images do you conjure up when you hear the word 'drone'. For me, personally, I imagine lethal gray, pilotless CIA Predators prowling the skies over trouble spots in the Middle East, spying with all seeing eyes on the lives of civilians below. And sometimes the people that control them, often on the other side of the world, use their lethal capabilities to wreak havoc on good and bad alike.

At the other end of the spectrum is TeenyDrones, a little startup company in Montreal, Canada who began selling their 13.7 gram EVs as educational tools for children and adults, alike. Because 'toy' drones like them are rapidly proliferating and because they use electric propulsion in the form of tiny micro motors spinning four or more sets of plastic propellor blades, all powered by equally tiny batteries and control electronics, we wanted to get the perspective of one of the purveyors of the technology on the ethics of owning and flying them.

Jason Mainella is a thoughtful 'millennial' - beard and all - who two years ago co-founded the company with the mission of bringing low cost 'drone' technology to the masses, not as just a hobby or invader of privacy, but as a tool to teach young people, especially, about how they work and, hopefully, how to fly them responsibly, unlike the people who fly them into the flight path of commercial airliners or over West Coast wildfires.

In part one of our Skype video dialogue we discuss many of the ethical issues surrounding the emergence of toy and hobbyist UAVs. In part two, Mainella introduces us to his company's nano drone which can fly for 15 minutes and recharge in the same period of time.

We also learn that manufacturers are responding to the misuse of their technology by programming them to avoid no-fly zones like the U.S. White House or in Mainella's case, Montreal Airport where he can't fly any higher than 100 feet. Of course, software can be hacked, so that's no guarantee someone won't misuse these EVs. And restricting their sale won't work either since all of the parts to build them are readily available on the Internet. Maybe education and peer pressure are, in the end, the best deterrents, that and responsible adults, themselves, demonstrating responsible behavior.

The Teeny Drone comes in a small suitcase and sells on the company website [https://teenydrones.com/] for under $40CAD.

Video Part 1

Video Part 2

ADDENDUM:

A bill (SB 142) is working its way through California's legislature that would place severe restrictions on drone use. Do you favor such legislation?

Times Article Viewed: 2459
Originally published: 26 Aug 2015

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