The answer of course is that neither in their day was, or is, well received at all. 

The idea of a buggy without horses drawing it – imagine, in 1903, the shock and annoyance: loud, belching smoke, careening down the road with a goggle-wearing lunatic behind the wheel. The first automobiles, like the Model A created by Ford Motor Company, were much maligned. Prone to breakdown and accident, mostly driven by the young and city slickers, the ‘car’ (short for carriage, in a modern sort of way) was a phenomenon most wished would go away fast.

It didn’t; in 1908, Ford’s Model T began production and would become the first automobile to be mass-produced on a moving assembly line. From 1913 to 1927, Ford produced over 15,000,000 Model T automobiles. Today, there are about a billion of its spinoffs on the the road worldwide.

The perception of Bobby Hupp’s Hupmobile or Henry Ford’s mechanical achievement as a carriage without a horse seems a bit funny today. Given the frame of reference of the day however, it was a reasonable comparison – and a mental block against ‘progress’, some would say.

Drones are here to stay. They might be a little hard to love. Someday though, the thought of aircraft having people actually in them controlling the things will seem quaint, romantic – and a bit risky.

Similarly, the appearance of aircraft without pilots (inside them, that is) for many is unwelcome and downright unsavory. The big ones in use by the military ‘smoke’ targets from out of the blue, unseen, from high altitudes. Scary. The little ones are buzzing over backyards, peering in windows or spying on the sunbathing daughters of America on the back deck (or so many seem to think). Annoying at best.

On NextDoor Encinitas, the neighborhood community web site I’m a member of, I see fearful complaints and lamentations about drones. “Aren’t they breaking the law?”, folks want to know. “Clearly they’re spying on me!”, they write. “Is it OK to shoot them out of the sky if they’re over my property?” people ask.

Eventually, someone who pilots drones (sometimes me) will gently post a reply. The gist: no, they’re probably not doing anything that could easily be proved illegal, since interestingly, anything in the air is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration, not local authorities. And, you’re almost certainly not the target of spies. It’s practically always a kid with a healthy allowance who has bought himself a drone at Best Buy. Or, the local realtor trying to get a shot of the house she’s listed in your hood, whose photographer buzzed you inadvertently getting the shot. As for blasting the thing out of the sky with your shotgun from the back porch – tempting, though probably not a great idea, as you’d be destroying someone’s property without clear proof of nefarious activity. Might end up on the wrong end of the blame.

Sigh. Just a penance, the whole thing.


Wait though – what about the rapidly growing list of things that drones are being used for that have real benefits? Like the lives being saved by drones in the hands of first responders in disasters for search and rescue? The lifesaving power of drones when it comes to delivery of medical supplies and equipment? The data-gathering and mapping capabilities of unmanned aircraft in farming, mining, electric power distribution, pipeline systems? The soaring, Godlike views afforded pretty much anytime we turn on a TV program or movie? The delivery of your deodorant to your doorstep by Amazon rotorcraft, and the Uber air taxi whisking you off to Grandma’s house (coming soon)?

Here’s truth number one: the automobile is as much a part of our culture today as the buggy and stagecoach of yesteryear.

The second truth: drones are here to stay. Autonomous vehicles might be a little hard to love right now. Familiarity brings comfort though. Someday, the thought of aircraft having people actually in them controlling the things will seem quaint, romantic – and a bit risky.

After all, computers and remote pilots get the job done so much better. Who wants Fred Flintstone behind the joystick, anyway?

Richard Hawk

Producer at Airleaf Media

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