Should Cities Have Zoning For Drones?

The FAA's rules about commercial drones have so far been ham-fisted: ban, except in special cases. But what would a world where we live, play, and work next to drones look like? What would city zoning for drones look like?

For that, we might take a look at a recent post by Mitchell Sipus, an urban designer who's worked in Kabul and Mogadishu. Sipus was exploring how drones—or UAVs for the more precise among you—might be a research tool for urban planning, when he lost his UAV on the top of a locked building. A quip on Twitter inspired him to think about drone-free zones to avoid this exact situation.

But zoning allows more finesse than just ban or no ban. Sipus developed a color-coded system that divides up the airspace based on privacy and safety concerns. Green areas, where there are no restrictions, might be wide, flat public spaces where there are no flight hazards, thus minimizing drone accidents. UAVs would be totally banned in red zones. Yellow and orange zones might have rules that change depending on the day or season.

Above, you can see an example of drone zoning in Chicago mocked up by Sipus. For those of you familiar with the city, Buckingham fountain is in green, the football stadium in red, and Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, Aviary, and Observatory in orange and yellow.

Kelsey Atherton's post at Popular Science, which first alerted us to Sipus's drone zoning, begins by comparing future drone infrastructure to car infrastructure first developed a century ago. Could we one day see aerial highways where Amazon's fabled delivery drones can fly? But then what about drones used for photography? This thought exercise just illustrates that zoning for drones, which vary in size, payload, and purpose, might actually be pretty darn complicated.

How are you supposed to keep track of where you can go anyway? Will your drone automatically know its allowed areas? Could you hack your drone to fly where it's prohibited? These are all interesting questions—questions that we should start asking now. [Humanitarian Space via Popular Science]

Top image: Humanitarian Space