Drone combat is gaining popularity in the sports entertainment business. As currently written, California Senate Bill 347, the State Remote Piloted Aircraft Act, will hinder the development of this growing industry. This bill further defines regulation for the operation and use of drones within California. The potential to impede development of drone combat as sports entertainment is Section 21754. This section states that “A person shall not weaponize a remote piloted aircraft or operate a weaponized remote piloted aircraft.”
The problem is that the word “weaponize” is extremely vague.
The Aerial Sports League (ASL) is at the forefront of the drone sports entertainment industry. ASL events include drone racing and drone combat. Also, the company’s headquarters are in San Francisco, so SB 347 will directly affect its continued operation. Understandably, the ASL is encouraging the California senate to provide a clear definition of what counts as weaponization.
Sticks and Ropes and Nets – Weaponized?
The ASL does not allow drones to use fire or electricity, chemicals, or projectiles that can fit through the protective netting surrounding the combat zone. These prohibitions are positive for three reasons. First, they provide protection to both the spectators and the drone operators. Second, matches are lengthened as a result. Third, they require drone creators to use ingenuity in the creation of drones’ offensive options.
There are some effective weapons common among the drones. Net launchers do exactly what the name implies, they launch nets. Some drones have bundles of ropes dangling from the undercarriage. If the drone is able to fly over another drone, then the dangling ropes interfere with flight capabilities, often causing crashes. Also, sticks or rods are used to whack-attack or to interfere with propellers.
Under the vague wording of Section 21754, these drones are weaponized and are illegal if the bill passes into law. Furthermore, a strict reading of the vague wording could mean that anything not vital to the functioning of a drone classifies it as weaponized. Take a camera. Sure, it seems silly to count it as a weapon, but a camera is a metal box. If it is moving fast enough it will cause serious harm if it connects with flesh.
Drone vs. Drone = Fun!
This focus on a clear definition is not solely for the benefit of ASL as an existing company, but for the future of any company involved in drone combat as sports entertainment. Beyond any company’s existence, it’s also important so a couple kids in a backyard aren’t prosecuted for having fun.
The California Senate has not voted on the bill. The sponsor, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, cancelled the most recent hearing on it for unknown reasons. Let’s hope the senator realized that the bill still needs some fine-tuning. I hope so because I really want to continue enjoying drone combat.