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Personal flying drones are here: should we be concerned?

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A small, pilotless drone can be built for a few hundred dollars and controlled through an iPhone.

They're here. And it was inevitable. Smaller, commercialized versions of the pilotless drones that US forces and agencies deploy over world hot spots can now be purchased and used by used by consumers for $300 and up.

Is this a good thing?

Sure, there are a lot of positives. Deliveries is one potential use of private drones. Equipped with cameras, they may help engineers scope sites, police fight crime, or firefighters save lives. Maybe they could be instrumental in keeping an eye on children or locating those that are lost, or finding lost hikers in the wilderness.

But Mike Kolier, for one, is worried about implications we may have not even fully considered yet. Celebrities are the first mark, likely by paparazzi drones, but there may be all kinds of issues for the rest of us, privacy and otherwise. "The idea of citizens having their own ‘personal drone’ to ‘keep an eye on things’ is to me a sure sign that the apocalypse is nearly here," he writes.

The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman reports commercial or personal drones will soon be flooding the market. "Several efforts to develop personal drones are scheduled for completion in the next year." Gorman observes that "an unmanned aircraft that can fly a predetermined route costs a few hundred bucks to build and can be operated by iPhone."

Consider such offerings as the Parrot AR drone, a quadricopter that can be controlled by an iPhone, iPod or iPad, or the swinglet Cam, a "flying camera" developed and marketed by senseFly in Switzerland. The swinglet can fly for about 30 minutes up to 12 miles, providing capabilities such as aerial imagery, crop monitoring, land management, environmental monitoring, real estate, traffic monitoring, mapping, archeology, and wildlife monitoring.

For the most part, use of personal drones falls outside the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration at this time.

(Video: Parrot AR drone, via YouTube.)

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure