‘Drone slayer’ cleared of charges, judge says he had the right to shoot down UAV

Trevor Mogg
Twitter wants to get into drones. At least, that’s what a recently revealed patent from the company appears to suggest. Granted in recent days by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the official document describes a “messaging-enabled unmanned aerial vehicle.” Is a Twitter drone in the works? It’s not completely clear what the social media company has in mind, though somewhat intriguingly the patent speaks of a Twitter user controlling a flying machine “with commands embedded in messages.” Controlling a drone with tweets? The folks at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will surely have palpitations at the prospect of such functionality. Reading on, there’s more for the FAA to worry about, as Twitter suggests the drone could be controlled “through democratic means,” a feature that on the face of it sounds like the flying machine would take ages to go anywhere or do anything. And when the controllers do finally agree on a set of actions, who knows what the consequences could be. The patent continues: “Controllable elements of the UAV include UAV location, camera orientation, camera subject, UAV-mounted lighting, a UAV-mounted display, a UAV-mounted projector, UAV-mounted speakers, and a detachable payload.” Related: Get airborne on a budget with the best drones under $500 When NBC asked Twitter what on earth the patent was all about, they came back with: “Two words: drone selfies.” Interesting considering the word “selfie” isn’t mentioned once in the patent. However, it does mention photos and video clips captured by a drone being placed in messages “broadcast by an account associated with the UAV,” adding that video footage from the camera could be “live-streamed in a card-type message.” That kinda ties in with Periscope, the live-streaming service acquired by Twitter in early 2015. Also, the patent was filed more than a year ago, a few days before the Twitter crew posted these drone selfies from Cannes. Is that significant? We’ve embedded one of them below: .@Yusasamoto takes a swing to send the dronie skywards at #CannesLions! https://t.co/6nRWuM7PQu — Dronie (@dronie) June 16, 2014 If you fancy trawling through the details of Twitter’s USPTO filing, you can check it out here. Also watch: Philips' new Izzy Bluetooth speaker does multiroom differently Please enable Javascript to watch this video

In a landmark ruling that could have gun-toting drone-haters across the U.S. blasting the diminutive flying machines out of the sky on a more regular basis, a Kentucky judge this week dismissed a first-degree criminal mischief charge against a man who shot down a quadcopter hovering over his home.

OK, we’re not really expecting carnage in the skies above America – not just yet anyway – but it’s certainly an interesting ruling, one the judge arrived at after concluding the drone had invaded the privacy of the shooter, William H. Merideth.

Merideth, dubbed the “drone slayer” by local reporters, told Kentucky news outlet Wave3, “I don’t believe I should ever have been charged,” adding, “The drone was trespassing. I had the right.”

The drone’s owner, David Boggs, told reporters outside the court he was “dumbfounded” by the judge’s ruling, saying, “I don’t think that the court looked at what really took place here.”

So what exactly did happen on that late Sunday afternoon back in July when the incident took place?

According to news reports at the time, Merideth said that at one point Boggs’ machine was “down by the neighbor’s house, about 10 feet off the ground, looking under their canopy that they’ve got under their back yard. I went and got my shotgun and I said, ‘I’m not going to do anything unless it’s directly over my property.’”

A short while later, Merideth said he saw the drone “hovering over the top of my property, and I shot it out of the sky…I didn’t shoot across the road, I didn’t shoot across my neighbor’s fences, I shot directly into the air.”

Related: Researchers in California successfully fly a swarm of 50 drones

Merideth told cops he brought down the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) after his daughter and her friend spotted it flying over his property. He said he didn’t know if the operator was spying on his daughter, or looking for something to steal, but described the flight as “trespassing.”

Boggs insisted that his quadcopter, said to be worth around $1,800, flew past Merideth’s property at an altitude of at least 200 feet, and at no point hovered. He added that he was simply shooting photos of a friend’s home.

But Bullitt County Judge Rebecca Ward was having none of it, this week throwing out the case after ruling that Boggs’ copter flight was an invasion of privacy and that Merideth “had the right to shoot this drone.”

Related: FAA proposes record $1.9 million fine against drone operator for “unauthorized” flights

The case comes as the government grapples with a myriad of challenges posed by burgeoning drone ownership, with a million more UAVs of all shapes and sizes expected to take to the skies this Christmas.

While the vast majority of hobbyists are flying their remotely controlled toys responsibly, the foolhardy few have been causing increasing problems near airports, disrupting firefighting efforts in California, and even causing security scares at the White House.

In a bid to curb irresponsible drone operation, the Department of Transportation recently announced a new system that’ll require all owners of remote-controlled aircraft to register their machine with the government, a move it says will help “build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience operating in the U.S. aviation system.”

As for the Kentucky court’s ruling, it could feasibly have implications for company’s like Amazon and Walmart, both of which are hoping to one day use drones to deliver goods to customers. After all, such a service would require plenty of copter trips into neighborhoods, trips that could see privacy-conscious residents reaching for the shooter to bring down UAVs buzzing overhead.

So long as the drones don’t start shooting back, we should be OK. Oh, hang on a minute….