Game of Drones: Does NYC Have an ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicle’ Problem?
Rise of the machines.
In late 2011, a slender Williamsburg resident named Tim Pool roamed downtown Manhattan, seemingly recording every minute of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Mr. Pool, an independent journalist, would use his smartphone to live-stream the demonstrations, sometimes for as long as 19 continuous hours, earning himself the nickname “The Media Messenger of Zuccotti Park” in Time magazine.
As the protests escalated, it became increasingly difficult for Mr. Pool to capture the civil disobedience from eye level. He yearned for an unhindered view—a higher vantage point, like from the sky.
“The fact that police would obstruct cameras just sort of put in our minds that we might be in a situation where you can’t get a good shot because there’s a wall or a fence or something,” Mr. Pool, now 27, told The Observer.
Enter the “occucopter”—a modified drone of Mr. Pool’s creation, built from a Parrot AR, one of the first consumer-oriented drones, which hit the marketplace in 2010 and was available for purchase on Amazon for $299.
Drones, also commonly called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), differ from the remote-controlled toy helicopters of childhood in that they operate via onboard computers under the direction of a pilot, who is on the ground. The Parrot AR Drone has onboard technology to follow preprogrammed instructions and automatically stabilize itself against wind.
A lightweight quad-rotor, Mr. Pool’s drone resembled nothing so much as a bike seat and, with its palette of neon colors, it looked like it had been plucked straight from the pages of SkyMall. Unlike the junk found in an in-flight magazine, however, it actually worked—and with the addition of a camera, the occucopter was given further functionality.
Shooting 50 feet into the air and zipping around at speeds of up to 10 miles per hour, the occucopter buzzed above the heads of the protesters. For many, both within and beyond Zuccotti Park, this marked their first-ever encounter with a drone. Even the mainstream media was fascinated, focusing on the device’s nonmilitary capabilities, as Mr. Pool earned press mentions across the globe in outlets like The Guardian and Wired magazine.