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Bird's Eye View

On October 13th 1860, a camera onboard the tethered hot air balloon Queen of the Air snapped a photograph looking down two thousand feet above the city of Boston. This image from James Wallace Black remains to this day as the oldest surviving aerial photograph (Waxman, 2018). Fast forward to today and aerial photography has come a long way in terms of the technology used to obtain it, and the techniques that have been perfected to make it useful.

Applying this concept to unmanned aircraft systems was a natural evolution. Improvements to the stability and payload capacity of UAS, as well as the decreasing size of high-resolution imaging equipment have made UAS the most affordable way to perform aerial photography. The growing adoption and acceptance of UAS used across many different industries speaks to the immense success of implementing this technology to a wide variety of applications.

The relative ease of use and decreasing price points of many commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) systems have removed many barriers to entry for sUAS operators. What used to be only available to large businesses, the military, or other government agencies can now be ordered online by anybody for only a few hundred U.S. dollars (“How Much is a Drone?”, 2019). The resulting surge in new aircraft taking to the skies has made it one of the fastest growing niche markets in the world.

Despite its success, it has also drawn its fair share of criticism. Among these concerns, one of the most prominent is that of privacy. Nobody wants to be enjoying a beautiful day in their backyard only to look up and see a buzzing drone hovering above them and their home. Especially one that has a camera attached and pointed their way. Critics also cite legal concerns over whether this constitutes a violation of their constitutional protections from unwarranted searches. Most studies that have collected research on this topic have found that concerns primarily boil down to who is operating the UAS, and to what level it is being regulated. This showed that public acceptance was higher when highly regulated government bodies and experienced operators were at the controls, and lower for a low to average experienced operator without any affiliations (Rice, 2019).

As it is the case with most new technologies that grow in use exponentially in a short period of time, the regulations that govern their operations tend to slack behind. It will be the combined responsibility of manufacturers, regulatory agencies, individual operators, and the general public to ensure the integration of UAS into the existing National Airspace System is done as efficiently as possible while still ensuring safety and privacy concerns are upheld.


“How Much Is a Drone?” MyFirstDrone, 2019,

typical cost for a,image quality and flight time.

Rice, Stephen. (2019, February 4). Eyes In The Sky: The Public Has Privacy Concerns About Drones.

Waxman, O. B. (2018, May 31). Aerial Photography’s Surprising Role in History.

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