Droning On Christmas

By Catherine McNulty

October 8, 2015 5 min read

Children are great wanters of things. They want a certain food for dinner; they want to stay up past their bedtimes; they want to know why the sky is blue. When it comes to technology, your kids probably know about the latest gadgets before you do. And of course, they want those, as well.

The holiday season kicks all of that wanting into overdrive. Drones are trending as the latest gadget du jour. They're everywhere these days. Amazon.com wants to deliver packages with them. Paparazzi are using them to get celebrity photos. And odds are that your kid wants one, too. But what are they? What can they do? Should you really buy your kid a drone for Christmas?

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle and sometimes called a remotely piloted aircraft. If you think of drones and you think of the military, you're not alone. Drones were brought into the public eye by reports of military use. But that's not all drones can be used for. In 2012, anti-whaling activists used a drone to monitor whaling ships in Antarctica. Farmers in Japan have used them to spray crops. Drones have been used to inspect oil rigs off the coast of California -- a job that is quite dangerous for humans.

But those aren't the drones your kids are looking for. Most kids will be looking for a quadcopter that either comes with a camera or can have one mounted on it. What's a quadcopter? It's a helicopter that is lifted and propelled by four rotors.

Why have drones suddenly skyrocketed in popularity? As Gordon Kruberg of Gumstix Inc. notes, the current "groundswell of activity" has historical precedent. Kids have been playing with remote control planes and copters for more than 30 years, but "technology has made them easier to use." He would know; Gumstix makes the circuit boards for drones.

And the current crop of drones is easier to use. Most of them are electric or battery-powered, as opposed to using gas or kerosene. That means they are lighter and have more flying time. They're also nimbler than the remote control copters of yesteryear.

Why does your child want a drone?

For one, it's cool. Admit it; it's awesome to pilot something. For another reason, there are a ton of personal uses for drones.

The most common use of personal drones is for video and photography. Your budding Ansel Adams or Martin Scorsese can get unique views from a drone. Or maybe your mini-fashionista wants to stage a bigger, more elaborate fashion shoot. Or your skateboarder wants to capture aerial tricks from the air.

There are build-a-drone kits available, as well. If your child is interested in robotics or engineering, this is the way to go. Your kid will not only have a drone but also be the one who puts it together.

There's also the burgeoning market for aerial drone games. That's something that Kruberg knows about, as he's in the midst of developing a game. "It's like Quidditch, but the drone is the ball." Harry Potter fans of the world rejoice! You can keep up with it at http://www.zyrogames.com.

There are things you should consider before you plunk down your credit card. First, how old is your child, and what will he be using it for? If you've got a 7-year-old, a plastic $50 model to buzz around the yard would probably be fine. But your 12-year-old might have her heart set on a serious several-hundred-dollar model that can fly much farther and higher.

And where will your child be flying the drone? If you don't have the space available in your yard, you'll need to find a public place that allows it.

You also can't discount the noise factor. They're called drones for a reason. That buzzy, whiny sound? Yeah, they pretty much all make that. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you have to consider your neighbors and the local laws. Recently, in California, amateur drones interfered with firefighters, so much so that San Bernardino County offered $75,000 in reward money to find the identities of the drone operators.

So you will definitely need to set some parameters and rules regarding drone use if you do decide to get one.

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