But a sky full of unmanned delivery birds is at least a little ways off and likely subject to the rigors of federal regulation. In the meantime, drone technology is available to consumers on a limited, recreational scale.
These smaller drones are somewhat similar to the radio-controlled model airplanes and helicopters that hobbyists have been flying for years. But the newer, multirotor aircraft are easier to use, and many of them come with an onboard camera or a place to mount one.
“I just like to fly the environment here; it’s beautiful,” said Petr Hejl, of Connecticut, who has shot aerial video along the Outer Cape, including stunning passes above Highland Light in Truro and the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown.
“The weather is the biggest challenge on the Cape because it’s so unpredictable,” Hejl said. “It’s the wind you have to overcome.”
Hejl invested about $3,500 in his rig, which includes a camera stabilizer, but he said a “really high-quality” setup would now cost about $2,000.
But thrifty wannabe drone-masters can get into the game for a lot less. At Centerline Hobbies in Hyannis, two sizes of camera-enabled Blade quadcopters (four rotors) cost between $189 and $479.
“We just have fun cruising it around in the store,” said manager Dan Bunker as he piloted the smaller quadcopter over model kits and around curious customers. “We’re getting a lot more calls on them.”
Charles Goetz, of Pocasset, walked into the hobby store to pick up parts wearing a custom-made headpiece festooned with four GoPro cameras. He said he loved the convergence of easy-to-fly aircraft and video technology.
A newbie to the hobby, Goetz only recently started using his larger Blade drone, mostly for scouting and mapping out trails in advance when he hikes and bikes.
“Maybe when I’m out walking, I might have it out flying directly above me, videoing an aerial view,” Goetz said.
There are some guidelines to safely using drones outdoors. The more widely accepted term for drones is unmanned aircraft systems. The Federal Aviation Administration has said that UAS currently can’t be used for commercial purposes but people are allowed to fly them for recreation. The agency is expected to come up with rules that would allow some commercial use of them in 2015, according to The Associated Press.
Drone operators should follow model aircraft standards the agency adopted decades ago, which limits the height of flying to 400 feet above the ground and prohibits operating them around populated areas, near aircraft or airports, according to the FAA website.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement Monday that Americans need to be protected before commercial drones take flight.
“Before our skies teem with commercial drones, clear rules must be set that protect the privacy and safety of the public,” Markey said.
Some fliers say it’s also up to the operator to be respectful of the rights of others.
“It’s just a common-sense sort of thing,” Hejl said. “You try to keep it away from large groups of people or anyone who might be bothered by it.”