Buzzed by a drone on the London Eye

Yesterday, I went on the London Eye with the family. We were very lucky with the weather which provided excellent visibility - so good in fact that I noticed a small drone in the distance. The drone came gradually closer until it hovered a few tens of metres away (although it's difficult to estimate distance when all available points of reference are so far away).

I guess it says something about me that I found this more fascinating than the lovely view of the Thames and North London.

From zooming into my photo, I think I can identify the species of drone as being one of the DJI Phantom series of drones which look like this. That's a camera (rather than a weapon system!) slung underneath. At just over 1Kg in weight, it falls below the 20Kg threshold, the significance of which is explained by Mark Piesing in Wired:

Drones that are under 20kg can fly in normal airspace [in the UK] for private use so long as the operator isn't planning to use data or images from the flight acquired by flying close to people or objects. UAVs have to remain 150m from congested events or large assemblies, 50m from a person or building, and within line of sight, which is 500m horizontally and 400ft (122m) vertically. Flights beyond this can be permitted but the operators need to show they can fly the plane safely. Live-streaming from the UAV to the pilot is not considered a good enough measure by the CAA to allow drones to be flown beyond line of sight.

My photo of the drone over London above doesn't quite convey the sense of being spied on by a hovering camera rig. However, the device hovered for some time, in slightly different positions, and was clearly filming or photographing the London Eye, including the pod in which we were standing. I can't deny that it made me feel a little uncomfortable, with a frisson of something like 'future shock'. Imagine opening the curtains of your upstairs bedroom one morning and seeing one of these hovering outside your window, with it's camera lens trained on you....

The increasingly common use of drones for fun or profit in urban airspace has been in the news of late, as there is a sense that this may start to present a hazard to commercial aircraft. I'm not sure how much of a hazard this kind of device could present to aircraft over central London, but I suppose it might present a risk to low-flying helicopters. I have no doubt that these devices are, in any cases, going to present a number of challenges to urban living.

Having spotted one 'watching' my family and I, essentially through a window, I responded as any red-blooded Englishman should, and stuck two fingers up to it!