What Happens To Drones When They Fall Out Of The Skies?

from the what-goes-up,-must-come-down dept

For obvious reasons, stories about drones concentrate on what they can do while they are airborne. But they have to come down at some point, and sometimes emergency landings mean that they cannot return to base. An interesting story from Italy recounts what happened there in these circumstances:

A 24-year old college student in Bologna, Italy was arrested by Italian postal police after attempting to sell a drone that had emergency-landed on his apartment’s terrace last October. The student had posted the drone, a privately-operated Microdrones quad-rotor helicopter owned by Italian startup Eye Sky, on Subito.it, an online auction site. The asking price for the $40,000 drone: 1,000 euros [$1300].

The Ars Technica post notes the mistakes the student made that enabled the police to track him down (hint: don’t post too many details when you offer a drone for sale), and that he now faces up to a year in prison, and fines. But what’s interesting here is that the student in question even thought of trying to sell it. It’s almost as if drones belong to a different, heavenly world, and when they drop out of it into our earthly one, they are regarded as a kind of lucky gift from the gods to do with as we please. Of course, for all their novelty, they’re just another kind of physical object that is owned by someone, who won’t be best pleased if others try to appropriate it.

However, this does raise the question of what exactly the public should do when a drone comes down in their garden or on their roof. As drones and emergency landings in cities start to become more common, who do we call? Do we perhaps need a central Office of Lost Drones that can come along and pick them up?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Filed Under: ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “What Happens To Drones When They Fall Out Of The Skies?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
52 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

O ya, nice idea.

“This drone is property of NSA in its efforts to spy on the American public. Please return it in Bluffdale, Utah so we can politely ask you to delete pictures that were not taken and probably charge you with one or two felony counts.”

I’d just put it in a vehicle, drive elsewhere far from home, wrap it around something metallic to block any GPS signals, bring it back home and disassemble it.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re:

“Why don’t the owners/operators of drones simply put a sticker with their name and contact details onto them?”

What? And risk losing plausible deniability for spying on my ex (or peeping on my neighbor…), are you crazy?

Don’t get me wrong I have no problems with ‘drones’, just like anything else, they can be used for good or for bad. The problem is that if you are doing something covert you probably don’t want anyone to know the drone belongs to you.

I think if there is a ‘Property of’ sticker on it, then it should be returned to the owner. No identifying information it’s finders keepers. Perhaps there needs to be a DVIN (Drone Vehicle Identification Number) on drones in order to track ownership.

I can see a time in the not too distant future where drones causes cause auto accidents, or mangles a pedestrian, or even in some cases interferes with a airplane in flight. I really hate the idea of more regulation, but this might be one of those areas where in makes since to, at a minimum, force registration of the vehicle, and perhaps force licensing of the operators.

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sorry.

The law states that lost property should be returned to its owner. You either hand it over to its owner or to the police. You don’t take it home and sell it or turn it in to a planter.

If the NSA or the CIA is operating covert surveillance aircraft, they’ll probably have some cover company’s contact info on it, such as “Ace Arial Photography. If found, please call 212-555-1234.”

RC guys do the same thing with their planes. They all include a business card or sticker inside the body of the plane. A model plane with good positive stability could fly for 20 miles or more before its fuel is exhausted.

That’s just common sense… isn’t it?

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“The law states that lost property should be returned to its owner. You either hand it over to its owner or to the police. You don’t take it home and sell it or turn it in to a planter.

Sure, because everyone always turns in everything they find,you know so the police can take it home. (And yes, it does happen more than you think, sometime it is even items from evidence lockers and not the lost and found.)

If there is any way to ID the owner, of course it gets turned over to the owner. Besides if its NSA or CIA they already know where it is, and your hosed anyway, probably for just looking at it.

My main point was not about lost drones so much as the possible issues with drones in general (being used for spying…).

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

OK, so I have done a little research and as I understand it lost property laws vary from one jurisdiction to another (typically, states). Many jurisdictions have enacted a requirement to turn the lost item into local authorities (not mine). If the true owner does not arrive to claim the property within a certain period of time and provide adequate proof of ownership, the property is returned to the finder as his own.

The lost property laws still state that you, as the finder, have superior ownership rights to all but the ‘true’ owner.

So that is basically finders keepers, unless the original owner comes forward with a claim.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I fly Model Aircraft (not much different than a drone really) and putting your name, address and phone number is standard procedure because sometimes they get lost and we like to get our expensive gear back.

It is also a requirement of AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics http://www.modelaircraft.org/) rules to put identifying information on your aircraft if you want to receive member benefits such as liability insurance.

Chris Maresca (profile) says:

In the US

In the US, items delivered to you (e.g. addressed to you & dropped off at your house/office) by the postal service are your property, regardless of whether they were intended for you or not.*

It’s a strange twist that this person was arrested by the postal police, I wonder if you could argue it was ‘delivered’ to you, therefore it is yours….

*this was done to prevent people sending you things then attempting to collect money from for said things…

G Thompson (profile) says:

I’m so sorry officers, but this thing dropped out of the sky in the middle of my field/backyard and there was nothing I could do after I accidentally ran over it with my vehicle.

Yes yes I know it’s a lot of damage from just being run over, but you need to know that I had to make sure it wasn’t a danger to myself so after accidentally doing it once I somehow slipped on the accelerator a few more times, why yes reverse did get chosen in the gears a few times. How observant of you..

What? there are pieces missing.. oh those must of been melted down for safety reasons, Yes safety reasons.. here if you wait a few hrs I will produce a copy of them that I expect any drone operator to abide by if they somehow enter onto my property. Though you’re in luck, if you hurry I’m sure the garbage collectors will tell you where they took them.

Oh and those photos of the thing I posted on the internet, They are really photos of my backyard/field and that thing was just in the way at the time. Nothing could of been done about not photographing it, next time it should move.

Thankyou officers, now you have a good day

paul (profile) says:

Lost Property

I refer the court to the case of “Finders-Keepers v. Losers-Weepers.”

Seriously though, isn’t this analogous to someone losing control of their car and having it wind up on your lawn? You don’t get to take possession of the vehicle (although that would be sweet). Although I do wonder if you can bar someone from trespassing on your property to reclaim it. Any lawyer-folk want to weigh in on that question?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Lost Property

Seriously though, isn’t this analogous to someone losing control of their car and having it wind up on your lawn? You don’t get to take possession of the vehicle (although that would be sweet).

Put aside car registration for a moment and pretend a car is something you can just buy and sell without involving the government. If you came home and found a car on your lawn with the keys in it and no note or anything, would it be illegal to sell it? If so, why? Would it be illegal to hire someone to tow it away? If so, why? If not, why is it OK to get rid of it one way but not another?

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Lost Property

“Put aside car registration for a moment and pretend a car is something you can just buy and sell without involving the government…”

Um, just to clarify, you don’t need to involve the government when buying or selling a car IF the car has not been titled yet. I have built and sold vehicles without titles, even bought a few that did not meet the rules for acquiring a title. The buyer typically went through the efforts to title and register the vehicle.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Lost Property

Sadly, I must confess that many years ago I was testing a vehicle I was building and it did end up in the neighbors yard, it was not titled.

Thankfully, they were good neighbors and didn’t call the cops, I repaired the fence and towed the vehicle back to the shop to make repairs. That vehicle was later titled and sold. I built trikes, sand rails, and other custom vehicles. Never really made a lot of money at it, it was just a hobby.

I don’t think vehicle building happens as often as it used to, but I did it for about 20 years or so. I knew a lot of people who, like me, would test their un-titled vehicles on the roads. Some would drive hundreds of miles. Some even used them for ‘daily drivers’ for weeks or even months.

One gentleman I knew would build a trike every winter drive it all summer, testing and tweaking it. Come fall he would title it head south and sell it. Then start building one for next year.

Vic says:

Re: Lost Property - REALLY!

But what’s interesting here is that the student in question even thought of trying to sell it. It’s almost as if drones belong to a different, heavenly world, and when they drop out of it into our earthly one, they are regarded as a kind of lucky gift from the gods to do with as we please.

Why not? Is there a law about drones in the books? In Italy? Let’s see how is wrecking handled in a maritime law? “Shipwrecks of a certain age …” – yep, finders-keepers!

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Lost Property

Detinue sur Trover (it could also be called Trover or just ‘Detinue’ in the USA) is the common law action for recovery of your lawful possessions that have been obtained by others.

Not to be confused with Replevin (which is as old as the hills of England) nor Conversion (which is basically the civil form of theft/larceny)

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Lost Property

Not too sure what obligations specifically in place under US law though the basic obligations under most common law countries is to protect and care for the item to the best of your ability (reasonable care) and to store it in a place where it is safe – though storage costs should be met by the lawful owner upon return of item (not before).

Any damage that occurs by intent or neglect towards the chattel (that’s what the item legally is) can be obtained by an award of restitution against the holder of the item. Though an intentional damage could also fall into the realms of criminal law (‘malicious damage’ or its equiv in the USA).

There is a fair amount of case law going back a few centuries about Trover/Detinue. Even has Pirate cases (the high seas Arrrr variant!)

btr1701 (profile) says:

Drones

> Of course, for all their novelty, they’re
> just another kind of physical object that
> is owned by someone, who won’t be best pleased
> if others try to appropriate it.

If they don’t want me keeping or selling their drones, they need to keep them the hell off my property. Where I live– rural countryside– you’d be justified shooting one of these things out of the sky even if it was over your property, let alone on it.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Drones

And the county Sheriff would be both justified
and obligated to arrest you.

No, he wouldn’t. I know him. He’d probably give me a high five.

No one has a right to overfly my property with little unmanned helicopters. Below the FAA-mandated ceiling, I own the airspace and it’s just as much of a trespass to overfly my land without permission as it is to walk across it.

So if you want to fly your expensive little machines over private land, you take your risks as they come. You may never see them in one piece again.

Crashoverride (profile) says:

If there is no identifying marks are you now obligated to research and discover who parked their drone on your deck? Is there a certain amount of time the finder or losee must in good faith search for/attempt to reunite? Does good faith such as posting photos of lost drone for x time make it yours?

Must compensation be made for the parking or hard work in reuniting losee with item that was left literally on your doorstep?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

there is no fixed amount of time- it depends on the object but you are required to make a good faith attempt to identify the owner. For a drone,posting pictures might be enough, but it depends. (posting them somewhere like reddit, which has a high traffic, probably would count. posting them somewhere obscure… not so much.)

Personally, I would look for any logos or such on the drone itself, as well as checking for contact info.

as for compensation, you are owed your costs; I wouldn’t recommended charging a parking fee however.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...