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Creepy drone over West Broadway bus stop

December 10, 2015


Late Wednesday afternoon (December 9) I was riding back into the Fairview neighbourhood along West Broadway Avenue after cashing in returnable beverage containers at a bottle depot in East Vancouver.

As I waited for the light to change at the intersection with Cambie Street, I noticed an unidentified object hovering high over the trolley bus wires and in line with a bus shelter in front of the RBC Bank, just on the other side of Cambie, in the 500 block of West Broadway Avenue.

Everyone waiting in the bus shelter turned to look at me as I pulled up with my bike and trailer in the curb lane. They all watched as I took out my camera, pointed it at the sky and began taking photographs.

Only then did the assembled group realize that they and everyone nearby were being watched by a small unmanned aerial vehicle — a drone — hovering 20 or 30 metres over the street.

It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s a super-annoying drone!

“Hey, that looks like it’s going to crash!” someone exclaimed, possibly mistaking the nearby drone for a distant aircraft.

“Is that a drone?” someone asked, incredulously.

“It shouldn’t be there!” someone else declared.

The group was fascinated; watching both the wobbly drone hovering in the sky and me, as I photographed it.

Whoever remotely piloted it also finally took notice of me because about 20 minutes-or-so into my picture-taking, the drone suddenly ascended to assume a new station more than twice as high in the air.

The drone had already been too far away to begin with — when I began taking photos at 4:19 p.m. — for me to get closeups showing any maker marks.

It was 4:54 p.m. when I took my last photograph of its receding form.

Yech tech that’s both cool and creepy

Mystery drone compared with a DJI Phantom 3.

Mystery drone compared with a DJI Phantom 3 Professional.

The drone I saw was of the four-rotor quadcopter variety and matches up very well with a Chinese-made DJI Phantom 3 drone, which comes in three models priced roughly between one and two thousand dollars.

The Pro model is available in Canada at BestBuy for a mere $1,699.99 and comes equipped to film 4k video and take 12-megapixel still images.

While I might have waited to see where it finally went to roost (drones aren’t know for terribly long battery life) it’s just as well that I didn’t — the DJI Phantom 3 is described as having a control range of an entire kilometre.

Theoretically the person on the other end of the drone could've been yp to a km away!

A circle showing the drone’s potential 1 km control radius.

That’s as far from Broadway and Cambie as Main Street in the east, Spruce Street in the west, False Creek to the north and as far south as 18th Avenue.

Signal-obstructing buildings willing, the person controlling this drone could literally have been anywhere in the Fairview neighbourhood!

Who’s telling the watchers to watch it?

While this drone wasn’t being used to take pervy “creepshots” — as such — it’s still somewhat unnerving to find yourself the object of such opaque scrutiny.

In August of 2014, a downtown condo resident was nonplussed to say the least when a drone appeared a few feet from his 36th floor balcony while he was eating his dinner and proceeded to hover there for about half an hour. A CBC report of the incident said that Vancouver Police counted 10 drone complaints for the preceding three months alone.

Transport Canada currently says that if a drone weighs less than 35 kg and is used for recreational purposes, there is no permission required to fly it but that all Canadian aviation regulations apply, as do all federal, municipal, provincial, and territorial laws related to trespassing and privacy.

Transport Canada also has a number of  “dos and dont’s” for drones that don’t all appear to be laws so much as suggestions:

  • Don’t get closer than 9 km to any airport, heliport, or aerodrome.
  • Don’t fly higher off the ground than 90 metres.
  • Don’t get closer than 150 metres from people, animals, buildings, structures, or vehicles.
  • Don’t fly in populated areas or near large groups of people, including sporting events, concerts, festivals, and firework shows.
  • Don’t fly near moving vehicles and avoid highways, bridges, busy streets or anywhere you could endanger or distract drivers.
  • Don’t fly within restricted airspace, near or over military bases, prisons, and forest fires.
  • Don’t fly anywhere you may interfere with first responders.
  • Avoid flying over private property or taking photos or videos without permission.

In September, the British Columbia government made a submission to a Transport Canada panel looking at revising drone regulations.

B.C.’s submission calls for all drones to be registered and all pilots/operators to be certified.

This after a summer when someone attempted to use a drone to watch a woman sunbathing on her apartment balcony in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood and when a drone briefly blocked efforts to fight wildfires in the Southern B.C. interior.

So, at present, everything’s up in the air. Drone use is still more governed by etiquette than law.

Meaning that while it’s clearly stupid, rude and ignorant to hover a drone over people unawares in a public place, in order to watch or video them, I can’t say that it’s actually illegal.

On the other hand, although it does potentially break several laws of nature to be able to hit such a small object as a drone with a slingshot much beyond 20 metres, I can’t say whether it’s against the laws of Canada or British Columbia for someone to try.

Here's a simulation in lieu of the video I thought my camera was taking.

Here’s a flight simulation in lieu of the video I thought my camera was taking.

From → Cameras, Computers, Drones

  1. Sloan permalink

    I guess when they say “all Canadian aviation regulations apply,” they mean as they apply to flying toys, like model planes and helicopters (maybe even kites). They don’t mean aviation law, which requires aircraft and operators to be licensed. A drone is a lot more than a toy.

    • That’s a really good point. It’s also possible that perhaps the government doesn’t know quite what it means — that it just hasn’t kept pace and is throwing up boilerplate language in the hopes that people don’t notice — but you just did.

  2. Bill Lee permalink

    Drones of same class all around False Creek this summer, noticeable in the night time for their small flashing lights.. This is within range of Cambie and Broadway.
    Hipsters “playing” or just watching and stalking people?

    • A former street person living in social housing in the east False Creek area was telling me the same thing. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration has been dizzy worrying about how many Americans would be getting drones from Santa, hence the government brought in licensing requirements just before Christmas.

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