Drone Wars of Dongguan

There is rarely an issue that fails to divide opinion. In this world of warfare, hobbyists and filmmakers operating the same technology, what does the future hold for the world’s factory floor?

A drone operated by club leader James Fang hovers seaside during a recent trip. The Dongguan resident believes that although there may be privacy issues, clubs will be the future of recreational drone use.

A drone operated by club leader James Fang hovers seaside during a recent trip. The Dongguan resident believes that although there may be privacy issues, clubs will be the future of recreational drone use.

“The applications of this new technology are endless. From military and security use to photography for international broadcasters, drones are the future.”

Local resident, and member of the recently formed Fun Fly FPV (First Person View) Club, Kevin Chen looked back as he made that statement to watch his fixed-wing begin a pre-planned flight path. It’s linked to his MacBook, and the aptly named, open-source app Paparazzi connects it to all of the leading online maps. The drone, or UAV, is controlled by selecting waypoints on the map and setting suitable altitudes for the selected terrain.

While Europe makes global headlines entering the military surveillance drone race, the leading manufacturer of commercial drones is DJI, based nearby in Shenzhen. Their latest model, the Phantom 3, has already been adopted by filmmakers and artists harnessing advanced stability and camera capabilities. Now, e-commerce giant Alibaba has held delivery trials, distributing tea to several hundred customers.

“Of course there will be troublemakers, it’s human nature. Clubs like ours will become more important in the future.”

Trial results are still hush-hush, but many important businessmen know the future is coming. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has even been credited with saying that drones will be as common as delivery trucks in the future.

But is this future one in which privacy is a thing of the past?

Many have already taken issue. Drones were spotted in Dorset, England taping nudists on a local beach and the Arkansas Senate approved adding drones to the U.S. state’s voyeurism law. “Even though Chinese people have taken to new technologies in the past, drones are going to be a hard sell. The culture is very traditional by nature and drones will seem alien. I have no doubt that there will be many issues in the future, perhaps even violence against innocent hobbyists,” says Jerry Huang, a 21-year-old local who is not interested in the hobby, but admits that he’s intrigued. “I would love to try it,” he adds.

The argument from futurists is that even though these devices could be used by voyeurs and deviants, they will be policed in some way in the future. It’s the only logical solution to the impending issues of such technology being commercially available.

“Of course there will be troublemakers, it’s human nature. Clubs like ours will become more important in the future. It feels good to be a part of the solution,” says James Fang, head of the local club, which has grown steadily from five members to twenty in six months. Clubs like these are pushing for a future in which more people can experience the joy of flight from the safety of a local park. “Many of us wanted to go into photography. Now we have been given the ability to take shots that look like they have been taken by a professional,” he says as he shows off a new video from a holiday. It starts with the camera angled down on him lounging at a hotel, and then zooms out to show the actual height of his UAV, which then focuses on the lush landscape in the distance as it begins its voyage.

Kevin Chen, center, sets a flight path for his drone, as fellow club members watch on August 18. (Credit: Cerrin Hendricks)

Kevin Chen, center, sets a flight path for his drone, as fellow club members watch on August 18. (Credit: Cerrin Hendricks)

“People are really worried that the word ‘privacy’ will become a joke in the future. It’s as simple as that. I am very worried that the future is going to have drones flying all over, delivering merchandise or providing security all the time. Maybe I will get used to it, but many will not,” says Dennis Lai, another young Dongguan resident.

Futurists on the other hand should have the right to experience exciting new technology without fear of harm. A woman in Connecticut, U.S. was recently charged with assault for attacking a teenage boy who was piloting a UAV. Incidents like this haven’t occurred publicly in Dongguan, but recent attacks such as the murder of a Chinese bride and injury of her French husband in Beijing are a frightening reminder that there is no place in the world that is perfectly safe.

“I hope that people will accept the future and see it as the exciting one in which drones are used for many other purposes. The sheer fun of flying will become a part of everyday life. Sure, jobs will be impacted, but I am certain that humanity will adapt to these changes. To say that we are not capable of this is a lie,” says Kevin as he looks down at his present and future hobby.

Category Interests, Play