Personal Drones for Fun + Profit

Personal Drones for Fun + Profit

By Eugene S. Robinson

Ken Butti carries out pre-flight checks of the custom built DJI s1000 Drone Sydney, Australia, 2014.


The number of eyes in the sky could soon be legion, and we’re stuck between a sense of unease and a gleeful shout of “Where’s mine?”

By Eugene S. Robinson

There are dark alleyways where all kinds of uncomfortable assignations might occur but don’t, and others where they do. The thing is, you don’t know which alley you’re taking until you’re well within it — and that’s exactly where we are with the rapid rise of drones and the technology to make them consumer-ready. 

Which sees radio-controlled (RC) vehicle enthusiasts, who typically apply their interest to miniature boats, cars, helicopters, planes and trucks — now, for better or worse, branching out into video transmission equipment paired with GPS guides to create personal drones.

An autopilot robotic with a camera attached.

3DR Iris

“When digital cameras got GoPro-esque,” said RC fanatic Steve DeMarco about the miniature go-anywhere digital cameras, “and video cameras got small enough to fit into narrow probes, us fans were already making plans.” 


“For seeing stuff from the sky? For cool video? Spying on my neighbors?” As he laughs he underscores both the appeal and the concerns about consumer drones. Or what the cognoscenti call Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

UAVs — typically radio-controlled helicopters, planes or modified flying dirigibles — are bought in easy-to-get kits of lightweight composite materials. Or, if you’re feeling especially bold and maker-ish, they can be constructed from scratch and modified to carry a video device armed with GPS to chart locations, or flight plans, for your personal drone. And because you can get your hands on a complete system for about $750 without a GoPro and $950 with, low-cost UAVs are causing ripples in both fan circles and concerned communities alike.

Earlier in the year, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed legislation to regulate UAVs belonging to government agencies and private users, limiting the ability to track or stalk individuals. Rep. Neal Kurk, who sponsored House Bill 1620, told Foster’s Daily Democrat: “I’m very concerned about privacy and First Amendment rights.” Add spreading national legislation to the backlog of chatter about military drones, and the DIY drone enthusiast has a major PR hurdle to clear before busting out with any cocktail party enthusiasm about spending weekends droning. 

Amazon's Prime Air drone flying in the sky.

Amazon’s Prime Air drone

Which matters not even a little bit to DeMarco. “Look, Amazon is trying to do the drone delivery thing, and I have friends who are selling footage to real estate companies of seaside locations, so it’s got plenty of business uses, too.” And the self-policing that enthusiasts are already doing regarding flying close to airports and using their devices to record accidents or disasters and not to follow their exes, for example, are already codified.

But so are traffic laws, and they’re broken all the time. 

“Welcome to life on planet Earth,” DeMarco says. “But like it or not, the cool stuff we can do with drones far outweighs the bad, I think.”

And when we see some bird’s-eye footage of one of his other favorite pasttimes, surfing, we’re transported by both the thought of turning to drones to create video content and going to places we dare not go ourselves. 

“Cool, yeah?”