Eric Schmidt: Regulate civilian drones but not Google Glass

Google Glass is a small object often in motion with a camera and GPS, typically in the air. It might also fall in a similar category to what could be called personal drones.

A Parrot drone hovering inside an office cubicle. (Credit: CNET)

At some point in the not-too-distant future, the skies could be filled with drones -- swarms of insect-size and larger drones hovering over neighborhoods, alleyways, and even inside bedrooms.

That's a nightmare future, according to Google's Eric Schmidt. In an interview with the Guardian, he said. "You're having a dispute with your neighbor. How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their backyard? It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?"

Following the proliferation of mini-drones, someone will invent mini surface-to-air missiles to vaporize offending sentinels lurking over your backyard. But the Google executive chairman prefers to "not spread and democratize the ability to fight war to every single human being."

For Schmidt, Google Glass provides a way to help spread democracy around the globe. Glass empowers people to quickly get information and record what is around them. It also bears similarities to a drone. It's a small object often in motion with a camera and GPS, typically elevated at between five and seven feet. Glass might fall into a category that could be called personal drones, like personal computers. Whatever the case -- perhaps in some instances used for spying -- these possibly covert digital devices will come under the glare of privacy advocates and regulators.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass. James Martin/CNET

It's left to governments to determine how to prevent or mitigate drone clashes from breaking out in what are not considered war zones. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) set up a site with information on the civil and public use of unmanned aircraft systems.

The FAA is working to establish guidelines for public agencies who want to operate unmanned aircraft weighing 4.4 pounds or less, and at less than 400 feet above the ground during daylight, within line of sight of the operator and more than five miles from an airport.

For regular citizens who fly recreational model airplanes, like a small flying object mounted with a camera and GPS, the basic rule is no flights higher than 400 feet or within 3 miles of an airport, unless the airport is notified. As long as Google Glass stays planted on the ground, it should be safe from the FAA.

 

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