Sales of recreational drones are skyrocketing as photographers, farmers and firefighters realize the incredible views they can capture from high above. Drones carrying small cameras can go where humans can't.
The problem is, that type of consumer cinematography isn't always legal.
"Anybody who's flying above 400 ft is flying is in violation the law. Yes they can fly farther than you can see, but you shouldn't," 3D Robotics co-founder Chris Anderson said. "There's an FAA regulation about that. You can fly below 400 ft -- manned aircraft are above 400 ft, so there's supposed to be a buffer."
Consumer drones have soared to become a $450 million dollar industry, up 45% in the last year, but their future is a bit up in the air. In the last six months, there has been at least 25 close calls with drones reported by airplane pilots and the FAA may crack down on where, how and when drones can fly.
Anderson said their company is taking action to help prevent dangerous flying. While his company's drone could technically fly thousands of feet, a piece of technology is quelling user's dangerous temptations.
"It's called geo-fence, our software limits how high and how far you can go," Anderson said. "We have an obligation as an industry to basically use the intelligence to help people fly more safely."
That won't necessarily stop every concern though. For many, privacy might always be an issue. But Anderson said while drones have the capability, people shouldn't be flying where they can't see.
"You're not allowed to fly over urban areas. FAA rules say you can't fly over visual line of sight, you can't fly over built-up areas," Anderson said. "The point is we already have rules in place but they're not well understood and they're not being well enforced and I think we have an obligation as an industry to say, 'Hey you're in built-up space, you shouldn't be flying here.'"
But Anderson assured there's more to drones than danger. At a price point starting at around $500, people are sending more and more affordable drones into the sky, primarily with GoPro cameras.
"This is the golden age of personal videography. The quality of cameras in our iPhones and GoPros are extraordinary," Anderson said. "YouTube created a marketplace for great videos in your life. We now have the tools, the cameras and software, to take great videos. The only thing we're missing is the thing that Stephen Spielberg has, which is the boom or the crane, the perspective to take it above eye level."
The future of the technology is looking up as well. Big data capture, from crop charting to construction site and sky mapping, drones are taking familiar techniques like Google street view to the sky.
"We're digitizing the world from a new perspective," Anderson said. "We've had cars and we've had satellites, but nothing in between. The sky is empty."
Even big box retailers like Amazon could be making use of the trend soon. While Anderson said store-to-home delivery may not be in the near future, they could make use of the mini helicopters in a safe and practical way.
"So if you live in an apartment building imagine a kind of Amazon box at the roof of the apartment building. We all had codes to the box, it would go from warehouse to the drop-off location and we'll hatch it open and the package would go in, and you'd get a text message saying your package is waiting, and you'd get it," Anderson said. "What's nice about that, it's a known path, it's a cleared area, there's no people around on the roof. It'd be fenced off or whatever so it's appropriate for a drone."