Merry Christmas! Give a drone.
Wish you had some way to keep track of your pesky neighbors? Or see what it is your kids are doing in the basement? Or just keep pace with the NSA?
Well, this gift-giving season, consider embracing the very essence of 2013 — which the American Civil Liberties Union has dubbed the year of the drone — by getting a drone of your very own.
These unmanned flying devices take surprisingly impressive moving pictures. They can stay in the air anywhere from a couple minutes to a full half-hour. Sure, they're in the early generations for the at-home hobbyist, but the technology is sure to advance.
Like it or not, drones are set to explode in our domestic marketplace in the coming months and years. In fact, this past August, acting FAA chairman Michael Hurta estimated that there could be close to 30,000 private drones sharing the air with manned-flying machines by 2020.
But why wait till 2020? You can get one now.
Consider, for example, the OKTOKOPTER X88-J2 drone RTF w/TX DJI-Wookong for 5D mark, which is on sale on eBay. These bad-boys can fly in all sorts of weather. They even have GPS-lock, which means a drone can lock over a programmed location.
"Even when the oktocopter is pulled away from its locked location," the seller boasts, "it will return to that original location."
Not sure the Oktocopteris right for you? How about the Parrot AR Drone 2.0? Available from Amazon and Apple, with accessories for sale at some weirder places like the MoMA Design Store, the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 can create its own WiFi signal while streaming footage directly on to your smartphone or tablet. The $300 drone also boasts "augmented reality games that turns the world around you into a video game." Sounds awfully similar to how military pilots describe their missions guiding unmanned bombers abroad.
Not every home drone is perfect, of course, and the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 has its issues. TechCrunch's Darrell Etherington explains that even though the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 is "very fun," the image the home drone records while in flight is lacking. He describes the footage as "laggy, pixelated, and generally subpar, even if the camera on your drone is capable of recording much higher quality video."
Well don't worry, because there is a new high-tech feature you can add to any remote-controlled flying object that will make your toy into a home drone. The Sky Drone FPV, which starts at $499, is a "hardware module you put on your multicopter/plane and a groundstation software that provides the live video feed, on-screen display and more." In other words, the Sky Drone takes footage and streams the HD-quality video directly on to your tablet or smartphone.
For more varied examples of personal home drones, look at the March 2013 ComplexTech list of the ten best drones on the market, the Financial Times' ten "coolest drones" list, the DIY Drone, or just glance through the 3DRobotics online store. Just remember, as most of the reviews and the hobbyists say, these gadgets are not toys. They are sophisticated pieces of machinery, which are designed to be piloted remotely through a first-person perspective. This "first person view" is meant to feel like the navigator is actually flying through the air or hovering awkwardly over the specific area.
Of course, there are some very real and scary issues surrounding domestic drones. There is, for example, the very real possibility that these drones, which range in price from $50 to a few thousand bucks, can be weaponized. Very few states — Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and North Dakota — have even proposed a prohibition on domestic-drone weaponization. And that's not to mention the much-discussed privacy issues.
But clearly, drones aren't just a tool for the military to use "over there" anymore. Drones are here, folks, and anyone with a credit card can get one.