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Heads up as FAA looks at the future of drones

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28 2014 12:19 p.m. MDT

Drones have become a frequent spectator for many events, flying above buildings, landscapes and even through fireworks. But not everyone is as enthusiastic about the humming, flying objects.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — You've seen them above sporting events, crashing waves, gorgeous buildings and even through fireworks. Drones have become a frequent spectator for many events.

"What I've noticed is this huge surge of curiosity and popularity with it," Branden Bingham said. "Anywhere I take it, I draw a crowd."

Bingham flies his drone for sport. He said he likes filming a variety of things, including rock climbing videos. "Really anything that I just look at and think, 'Man, that would be epic to fly over,' I'll go grab my drone and fly over it," he said.

His latest project is filming all the Utah temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Aerial video used to require a chopper pilot and someone to handle a camera hanging out the side.

"Now it's as simple as coming to a field like this with a simple $500 piece of equipment, and you launch it up into the sky," he said.

But not everyone is as enthusiastic about the humming, flying objects. Commercial use of drones is illegal without a special permit from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Utah Legislature passed a law earlier this year requiring a warrant to use drones for surveillance.

"The point in this legislation that was passed this year is not necessarily to limit those good uses but to make sure that this new technology is not being abused by law enforcement," said Marina Lowe with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.

But she said it's a different case when it comes to photographers like Bingham.

"If you were to put some restriction on that sort of behavior you might actually run into some other constitutional concerns," Lowe said.

Utah Senator Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said privacy is a big issue when it comes to drones.

"I really don't want to be observed in my swimming pool," he said, adding that he expects to see legislation in the future.

"The industry has actually gone out in front of the rules. And so we're making these things and using them different than maybe they intended when we get the rules in place," he said.

The gray area extends beyond Utah. The FAA is working to define drones and toys, and decide just how high they can fly. It is also working to decide what privacy and environmental protection is needed in order to help integrate commercial and military drones into national airspace.

Its No. 1 priority is safety.

"How are we going to keep the hobbyist happy, the people who are using it for commercial use, and then also the people who are worried about being spied on in their garden?" Bingham asked. "You've got to find the middle ground."

Establishing that middle ground is something Stevenson foresees.

"I think you'll see a lot of legislation within the next four or five years involving unmanned vehicles," he said.

But for the time being, Bingham said, "I think it's also just an incredible way to get spectacular video that was not easy to get before."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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