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?

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Kam Solusar, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 1:23am

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

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 1:32am

      Re:

      Shame he isn't in the US, could sue for trespassing, harassment, endangerment of life, punitive damages for mental anguish, reckless driving, and on.. and on... and on...

       

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    •  
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      Ninja (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 2:30am

      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.

       

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      identicon
      Mr. Applegate, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 3:41am

      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.

       

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        tomxp411 (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 12:25pm

        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?

         

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          Mr. Applegate, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 1:34pm

          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...).

           

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          Mr. Applegate, Mar 7th, 2013 @ 3:58am

          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.

           

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 11:26am

      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.

       

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    identicon
    Chris Maresca, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 2:16am

    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...

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 2:35am

    IIRC, the law says you need to make reasonable efforts to find the owner, then after a reasonable time, if you can't trace them, it's yours. I'd suggest letting the police know, though.

     

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      ComputerAddict (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 5:15am

      Re:

      Luckily, "Reasonable Efforts" is loosely defined. I mean I posted an ad on craigslist: "Found pile of plastic parts and trash, probably not worth anything, I do not respond to emails or phone calls, carrier pigeons only"

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 6:31am

      Re:

      That would work swimmingly if you intended to keep it. Having it on file that you contacted the police about it, and then doing nothing else while the report goes ignored and the owner fails to track you down

       

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      nasch (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 8:02am

      Re:

      IIRC, the law says you need to make reasonable efforts to find the owner

      Somebody crashes something on my property, and I'M obligated to find THEM? That is some bullshit.

       

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        tomxp411 (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 12:28pm

        Re: Re:

        If it DAMAGES your property, you can then sue them... but you can't sue them if you can't contact them.

        Sorry, lost property laws apply whether the object was dropped there by a visitor or flew in under its own power.

         

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    McCrea (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 2:49am

    That drone was just looking around his roof to see if he had any other misappropriated items stashed up there.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 3:09am

    I would put it on the curb and leave it there.

     

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    Richard (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 3:20am

    CAA

    If this had happened in Britain EyeSky would have been prosecuted by the CAA for unsafe practices.

    To operate a drone in the manner described in the UK you must first obtain an exemption from the CAA - and it is unlikely that it would have been granted for the type of operation described in the article.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 3:49am

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

    You get to make a wish?

     

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    •  
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      Ninja (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 4:32am

      Re:

      For some reason I don't think the song When You Wish Upon A Star from Jesse McCartney wouldn't sound right if you replaced star with drone...

       

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    •  
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      DannyB (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 6:19am

      Emergency Landings euphemism

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

      Coming Soon to a Pirate near you: they explode!

      First they hover overhead. They use tempest and other technology to try to detect piracy. If piracy is suspected, then the drone comes in for an "emergency landing".

       

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    G Thompson (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 4:14am

    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

     

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    gorehound (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 4:48am

    Drones drops and I say get your pick axe or large mallet out.There's Work to be done.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 4:53am

    "who do we call?"

    Drone Busterz

     

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    Rekrul, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 4:59am

    I wonder what would happen if a civilian landed a drone on government property...

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 5:02am

    Sings that that technology needs refining #334:

    You tell you drone to hit the target, and it hits the target (nose first).

     

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    dennis deems (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 5:46am

    Finders keepers

    Hey, if you don't want me selling your drone, keep it the hell off my balcony, how about.

     

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    miatajim (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 5:53am

    Tools and a camera, I want to see in side that thing. About the time the fist photo hits the net......I'm never seen again.

     

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    paul (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 6:20am

    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?

     

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      nasch (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 8:10am

      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?

       

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        Mr. Applegate, Mar 7th, 2013 @ 3:46am

        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.

         

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          nasch (profile), Mar 7th, 2013 @ 7:31am

          Re: Re: Re: Lost Property

          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 was assuming if someone drove it onto your lawn that it had already been titled.

           

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          •  
            identicon
            Mr. Applegate, Mar 7th, 2013 @ 10:17am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

             

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              nasch (profile), Mar 7th, 2013 @ 12:18pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              I literally loled at that. OK maybe more of a chuckle but it was funny. :-)

               

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 2:51am

        Re: Re: Lost Property

        it's legal to hire someone to tow the car away; it's not legal to sell the car

         

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      identicon
      Vic, Mar 6th, 2013 @ 8:15am

      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!

       

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      G Thompson (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 9:12am

      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)

       

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        nasch (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 9:37am

        Re: 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.

        What obligation does it put on the obtainer?

         

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          G Thompson (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 9:55am

          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!)

           

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    btr1701 (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 10:13am

    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.

     

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      tomxp411 (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 12:31pm

      Re: Drones

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

      See? Now everybody's happy.

       

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        btr1701 (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 4:54pm

        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.

         

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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    They call them drones...

    ...I call them spare parts.

     

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    strykerakamack (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 1:22pm

    No Problem
    Place an ad in local paper wait 30 days
    After that its yours .
    Not my problem you don't get the local paper .

     

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    Crashoverride (profile), Mar 6th, 2013 @ 2:48pm

    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?

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 3:11am

      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.

       

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    zeiche (profile), Mar 8th, 2013 @ 9:41pm

    What if the landing isn't so harmless?

    Once drones are regularly cruising the American skies, what happens when one crashes into a crowd or school? Have the liability issues been ironed out?

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 3:00am

      Re: What if the landing isn't so harmless?

      considering drones are under the control of a pilot, liability is the same as for any other vehicle.

       

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        nasch (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 6:35am

        Re: Re: What if the landing isn't so harmless?

        considering drones are under the control of a pilot, liability is the same as for any other vehicle.

        There will be autonomous drones commercially available eventually if there aren't already.

         

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