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Drone Invasion: What are the rules regarding drone ownership? What does it mean for your privacy?

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 10, 2014)-- Propeller-powered drones have been around for nearly 10 years, but mass production is making them more accessible to everyday Americans.

But, what are the rules?

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects U.S. airspace to be crowded with nearly 8,000 commercial drones within the next five years. Those numbers do not include estimates on local hobbyists flying drones in your neighborhood.

The FAA has a host of regulations about how private businesses and law enforcement can use drones, but the rules aren’t as defined for your neighbor.

“Anything that is flying can have malfunctions and sooner or later something is going to crash,” said Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs. “Are they safe? Are they safe to the people underneath?”

Right now, the FAA says hobbyists cannot fly model aircrafts for payment or commercial purposes. The FAA also restricts recreational drones and model airplanes within 5 miles of airports. The agency defines model airplanes as devices that weigh 55 pounds of less and are prohibited from flying more than 400 feet above ground.

Riggs says the FAA has not created clear guidelines for local law enforcement, stating “It is very difficult, especially when you don`t have a lot of rules and regulations.”

Indianapolis Drone Club meets once a month to fly drones at Garfield Park. Preston Sego, an Indianapolis resident, started tinkering with the hobby in January.

“As prices of components come down, it has been more affordable to get into the hobby,” said Preston Sego.

A drone operator does not need a license or any training to launch the unmanned aircraft hundreds of feet into the air.

“I think people need to be safe with them. They are literally flying lawnmowers. They can do lot of damage,” warned Sego.

Rick Dicaire flew his drone above Garfield Park while watching a 27-inch monitor. Nearly all of the drones have a high-resolution camera mounted on the bottom to record everything in the flight path.

“It can be 200 or 300 hundred feet up there, and I am just watching through the TV. It is pretty cool,” said Dicaire.

Cool, yes, but drones could also be a big privacy concern if the technology is put in the wrong hands.

“I can only hope people act responsibly,” said TJ Johnson.

TJ Johnson makes drones in his basement in Broad Ripple.

As the popularity for drones skyrocketed, TJ saw his chance to sell.

“The technology is there to do whatever you want,” said TJ Johnson.

In 2012, Johnson started AirDroids along with fellow drone enthusiast Tim Rueter, who works in Washington D.C.

The Pocket Drone is small enough to fit in a briefcase.

“It`s fully capable of flying itself. You can use an android tablet and program a flight path and it will take off and fly that flight path,” explained TJ Johnson, showing us the Pocket Drone.

AirDroids launched the Pocket Drone campaign on Kickstarter. The company has already sold more than $1 million in pre-orders. Production will begin late this year in Indianapolis.

“I can throw this into my bag and carry it with me,” said Johnson.

Mike Leasure is an associate professor at Purdue University.

“The FAA has multiple recommendations for operating model aircrafts or unmanned aircrafts. They have no regulations for operating model aircrafts. I would consider a public park or area to have no expectation of privacy. That is where this would normally operate. If they are not operated in those areas, if they are in the neighborhood or outside someone’s home or window, that is an issue.”

Leasure teaches Purdue students how to fly drones. Because the class is so popular, Leasure will be teaching four advanced courses next semester.

Leasure thinks drone operators should need a license to fly the high-powered technology.

“I compare it to living next door to someone who has a carry permit for a handgun. It is not the gun that is dangerous; it is the person who is operating that machinery or technology. A responsible unmanned aircraft or drone operator will operate in ways that protect the aircraft, privacy and the people on the ground from being injured,” explained Leasure.

If you’re worried about aerial robots in your neighborhood or near your house, call police.

“One thing is for certain, drones are here to stay,” said Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs.

In late October, the FAA prohibited drones flying near or over large sport stadiums or events and auto racetracks for national security. The rule impacts The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Congress has told the FAA to create rules for commercial drone use by September of next year.

Research is being done at six drone test sites to develop rules for commercial drones. The closest drone test site to Indiana is in Virginia.

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