Pete Cheyanna has for years owned, managed, and built up a small auto repair business. In the beginning he depended on family, friends, and acquaintances for clientele, but within a few years, word got around that Pete’s Garage was the place to go once your car was out of warranty. Now, more than forty years later, Pete struggles to turn away new customers and allow himself a little more time for friends and fishing. His goal is to eventually retire, but loyal customers and old friends make the business difficult to abandon. A small group of those old friends even manage to get together for lunch at least once a week.
Yesterday, Pete and three of those friends, Dave Groopman, Frank Jackson, and Mike Kettrel gathered around a scratched and stained wooden desk that has set in the corner of Pete’s Garage for decades. The desk served as a dining table of sorts for the old friends. Conversation was sparse while the group opened their fast food sandwiches and got down to eating, but once he’d had a bite and popped the tab on his Mountain Dew, Pete asked, “Did you guys see that video they made of the flood water last weekend?”
“What was that?” asked Dave.
Frank piped up with, “If you’d get on Facebook, you’d know about these things, Dave.”
“You know I’ll never waste my time on that computer stuff, and besides, I’ve got you to let me know what’s going on.” Five seconds of silence crept by before Dave continued. “So, are you going to tell me what the video was?”
Pete and Frank exchanged knowing grins before Pete continued. “On Saturday when the river was cresting, some young photographer put his camera drone up in the air and broadcast the whole scene, live, flying over the flooded areas from North Cedar to the middle of Cedar Falls above where the utilities building was flooded. It was really very cool. Then afterward, he put it on Facebook for anybody to see. Awesome. That young man has a real future.”
Mike, quiet until now, said “Yeah. I saw it about an hour later. Very impressive. But what bothered me was, why don’t the police already have one of those drones? Think about all the times they’d be able to use that technology. And if they’re so affordable, it would be a lot like having a helicopter, but cheaper.”
Pete said, “They can cost several thousand dollars. Maybe more.”
“Sure, for us that’s something you’d think hard on before spending the money, but for the city, that’s nothing,” Mike continued.
“Well, two of the television stations already have them,” Dave broke in, showing that he was not totally out of touch. “At least they seem to have brought them out as soon as they had something entertaining to show. And I’ll bet the third will feel like they need to get one too. Just because.”
“Yeah,” said Mike. “And another thing. I don’t mind the news people having them, but what about the police? Do you really want cops running radar speed traps from some toy helicopter? Or hanging over your backyard taking pictures? Not me.”
Frank said, “Not to mention the whole can of worms you’d be opening up. I read somewhere that North Dakota, maybe South Dakota, one of them anyway, had approved letting the police there use armed drones. They’re carrying machine guns on those things.”
Dave broke in. “I didn’t know about that machine gun thing, but the whole idea of arming drones is too scary. I was just thinking of letting them fly around to look for lost kids in the woods, or the bad guys running away into a dark neighborhood.”
Mike was still agitated. “Pete, what do you think? You got us started on this thing, but you’ve been silent almost from the get-go. What’s the answer?”
“The answer might be to watch really closely how the technology develops. The only thing I’m sure of is…. Oh, hell, I’m not sure of anything anymore. We think of those little helicopters like they were toys, and they can be, but sure as the world, some wacko will be using one to peek in your bathroom window or case Pete’s Garage so he can break in the next night. With the police, they sound like a great tool, but arming them is too much for me.
“Sometime in the last few months, the FAA finally came out with at least some rules. You have to be at least 16. You can’t fly it above 400 feet, and it has to be within sight. You can’t do it at night, but that doesn’t sound like much control to me.
“My biggest concern is that nobody ever knows what new technology will bring with it. How long’s it been? Has it been ten years since the first iPhone? Now, everybody’s got a smart phone and wastes hours every day on Facebook. And all kinds of other stuff came along as a result. Ten years ago, who would have predicted Uber as a result of the smart phone?”
Dave raised his hand to interrupt. “Uber?”
Mike laughed. “Don’t worry, Dave. You won’t ever have to know what Uber is. At least not in Cedar Falls.”
“Anyway,” Pete concluded, “my point is that we, lawmakers, whoever… needs to spell out what you can and cannot do with your little helicopter. They are very cool. Those things can go a hundred miles an hour, but…. Maybe the one thing I know is… I hope somebody is working on rules for what people can do with those things.”
What do you think?