Whether good or bad, everyone seems to have an opinion on drones. Few technological advancements are as hotly debated as drones are right now.
The definition for what constitutes a drone varies, but most people agree that a drone is a remotely-piloted, unmanned aerial vehicle or aircraft. The distinction usually comes in its purpose—commercial or military.
With regard to military use, objections are fairly obvious—people have ethical concerns about "drone strikes," or the idea that a remotely-piloted aircraft could swoop in on a target and destroy it, especially when that target is a person. On the commercial end, though, arguments are more varied.
SEE: Drone policy (Tech Pro Research)
Consumer and business drone use brings with it privacy concerns (many models have attachable cameras), regulatory issues, and concerns about the skill level of amateur pilots. Although, drones have done quite a bit of good in the world as well, such as disaster recovery, reforestation, and delivery of goods.
Still, things go awry. Here are 17 drone disasters contributing to public wariness.
1. Drone crashes near the White House
On Monday, January 26, 2015, a drone crash landed on the White House lawn. The White House does have its own specific flight restrictions, but the drone wasn't easy to detect. Immediately after the incident, the White House went into lockdown. The US attorney decided not to charge the drone operator, Shawn Usman, after determining the drone was not under his control at the time of the crash.
2. Drone "attack" on German Chancellor Angela Merkel
During a Christian Democratic Party campaign in September 2014, a Parrot AR drone crashed in front of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The drone was piloted by a German Pirate Party member as a government surveillance protest. No one was harmed, but the situation raised concerns over similar experiences with weaponized drones.
3. Drone cuts off tip of photographer's nose
What started out as goofy holiday promotion ended terribly when a drone crashed into the face of Brooklyn Daily photographer Georgine Benvenuto, clipping the end of her nose and cutting her chin. The drone was a promotion by TGI Fridays called "Mobile Mistletoe," and it carried mistletoe above diners prompting them to kiss.
4. Drone injures Australian triathlete
At the Geraldton Endure Batavia triathlon in Australia, a drone was being used to photograph competitors when it crashed into triathlete Raija Ogden, causing a minor head wound, which required stitches to close. The drone operator, photographer Warren Abrams, claims that the drone crashed after someone in the audience stole control of it from him.
5. Drone injures bystanders in Virginia crowd
In the fall of 2013, spectators gathered at the Virginia Motorsports Park for the Great Bull Run, a festival with live music, drinking, a tomato fight, and a bull run similar to the Running of the Bulls in Spain. During the festival, a drone being used to record video crashed into the stands, injuring several people in attendance.
6. Drone flies too close to a news helicopter
One major concern for consumer drone use is the potential for operators to pilot drones into occupied airspace. In Washington, a news helicopter was covering a fire when the pilot noticed a drone flying too close for comfort. Nothing happened in this particular incident, but the FAA said it receives 25 reports a month of drones flying too close to manned aircraft. Recreational drone flights are supposed to be kept under 400 feet.
7. Drone nearly crashes into Airbus A320
In July 2014, a drone narrowly missed colliding with an Airbus A320 as it was taking off from London's Heathrow airport. The plane was at about 700 feet when the incident occurred and BBC reported that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rated the incident as a "serious risk of collision," the top rating it can give.
8. Drone caught carrying drugs near the border
On Tuesday, January 20, 2015, a drone carrying methamphetamine crashed in Mexico near the US border. The drone was transporting more than six pounds of crystal meth when it crashed in a supermarket parking lot in the Mexican city of Tijuana. According to the DEA, drones are becoming a common means to transport drugs over the border.
9. Drone flies over Bank of America Stadium
Unsuspecting fans and players alike were surprised when a drone flew over Bank of America Stadium during a Carolina Panthers football game in Charlotte, North Carolina. The drone caused no harm or damage in its operation, but its operator was detained and questioned afterwards. This incident, along with similar situations, prompted the FAA to criminalize drone flight in certain areas.
10. Drone flies over Comerica Park
The Detroit Tigers were playing against the Baltimore Orioles in a Major League Baseball game when a drone went buzzing by overhead. Being that professional sporting events usually attract fans in the tens of thousands, a weaponized drone could cause serious injury. Drones are difficult to detect and make security harder to enforce at such events.
11. Drone crashes into Grand Prismatic Spring
A Dutch man crashed his drone in the Grand Prismatic Spring, a famous hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. At the time, park rangers were concerned that the downed drone, as well as attempts to remove it, could hurt the spring.
12. Drone attacked by hawk
In the ultimate case of nature fighting back against man-made machines, a drone met its demise at the talons of a red-tailed hawkflying in a Cambridge, Massachusetts park. The drone caught the skirmish on its attached camera and the ensuing video went viral. While this probably won't be a common occurrence, the argument can be made that drones still pose a threat to wildlife.
13. Pilot crashes drone at drone safety demonstration
Back in 2015, Popular Science's Dave Mosher stopped by FOX & Friends to talk about FAA licensing requirements and the safe operation of drones. He proceeded to crash a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ into a camera operator during the segment.
14. Chimpanzee attacks drone with tree branch
A chimpanzee at a zoo in the Netherlands apparently felt that one quadcopter was getting a little too close for comfort. The drone, which was filming for a television show, was knocked out of the sky by a female chimp and destroyed.
15. Drone crashes into Seattle Space Needle
Drones are often used to capture footage of historical landmarks that can be difficult to see up close, but that can lead to some problems as well. During preparations for a 2016/2017 New Years Eve display at Seattle's famous Space Needle, a random drone crashed into the landmark, leaving workers uninjured.
16. Eagle attacks drone
A drone flying in Norway was taken down by a Golden Eagle that may have seen the device as a rival bird.
17. Drone crashes through 5th story window, hits man in head
A writer in Cape Town, South Africa got a nasty surprise in 2016 when amateur drone pilots crashed a UAV through his fifth story office window and ran it into his head. The writer was subsequently accused of creating a fake video of the account.
- The new commute: How driverless cars, hyperloop, and drones will change our travel plans (TechRepublic cover story) | download the PDF version
- Photos: Drones for good - from disaster rescue to replanting the world's forests (TechRepublic)
- Project Wing: A cheat sheet on Alphabet's drone delivery project (TechRepublic)
- Best Drones for 2018 (CNET)
- DroneVR+ FPV for DJI Drones for Android (Download.com)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.