A few weekends ago, I was at home watching an Outside the Lines (OTL) episode. In this particular episode, they were discussing the use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs) at sporting events. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you check out this link.
For those of you who can't check out the link for whatever reason, the show focused on the use of drones at sporting events, and more specifically being used as a means to capture images and videos during football practice settings. The episode featured UCLA Bruins head football coach Jim Mora, who talked about how he and his staff are amongst the first to use this technology at the collegiate level for analytical purposes.
I don't want to assume that many of you know what drones are, because I must admit that I wasn't too familiar with how they worked prior to this episode, so I'll do my best to explain what they are and how they are relevant in this forum. I'm relying on some of you experts to help me fill in some of the blanks, or correct me where I'm wrong.
UAVs are unmanned aircraft (airplane, helicopter, etc.) that are driven by a remote control. They typically have audio and visual recording devices on them, so that the pilot that is controlling the drone (from either a computer or on the ground) can actually see and hear the feed that the drone is picking up. These drones are usually deployed for military and special operation applications - but now regular people like you and I can purchase one of these devices from anywhere between $300-800, and use our smart phone as the recording device.
From what I researched, these drones can fly for up to 25 minutes non-stop before it needs a charge, and according to OTL, you can be up to two miles away and still control the device. Depending on the model you purchase, these drones can fly up to 5,000 feet in the air.
If you're like me, you're asking yourself two questions: is this legal, and how does this relate to the Buffalo Bills? Let's deal with the second question first.
In another month or so, the Bills will be starting training camp. When Doug Marrone and his coaching staff were bought in last winter, team President and CEO Russ Brandon promised that the Bills will be on the cutting edge of analytics. He said (paraphrasing) that the Bills will use every bit of information and technology that's available to make decisions on personnel. We then saw coaches use iPads for playbooks, a brand new analytic department created, and GPS tracking used to chart player movement during practice sessions.
If Brandon stays true to his word, is it safe to assume that we may see something like this come training camp? Before we can answer that question, there are many factors to consider; the most important are safety, security, and privacy, which leads me back to the first question.
Is this legal? From what I read, the laws governing the use of drones are murky at best. However, according to a ruling by a federal judge that presided over a case involving a drone operator and the FAA, drones are in fact legal to own and operate.
This particular application is unchartered territory, and the FAA hasn't been able to effectively pass any legislation banning the use of drones for recreational purposes. There are a lot of gray areas involving where these drones can fly, and regulations enforcing them. Then there is, of course, the privacy issue. One of these drones capturing images of things or people without permission can become problematic.
Now I have a series of questions for you, Bills fans. Feel free to answer how many you like.
If, in fact, NFL teams are interested in using drones for analytical purposes, do you foresee the NFL allowing their usage? Do you think the Bills will be one of the teams using drones if that comes to pass? Will you be okay with drones being used at football games?
How can the NFL or its teams prevent individuals like you and I from secretly filming practices? What will stop teams from spying on one another? Can I buy a drone, take it to training camp, and fly it over practice at St. John Fisher legally? Is this something that should be on the NFL radar? Read this, and then let me know what you think.