Who Needs a Helicopter? Welcome to DRONE Parenting!

Readers — This story is so strange, it’s almost like watching a sci-fi army come marching out of the TV. (Does anyone remember TV? It’s like a computer, but you can’t ask it questions.) Anyway, the piece is by a dad named Paul Wallich who begins this way:

On school-day mornings, I walk my grade-school-age son 400 meters down the hill to the bus stop. Last winter, I fantasized about sitting at my computer while a camera-equipped drone followed him overhead.

So this year, I set out to build one.

The dad then details all the tinkering involved (paging NASA!) to make this fantasy a reality. BUT he never bothers to stop and ask the first question you ask before you build anything: Why bother?

The boy goes 400 meters. I already HAVE an invention that would keep him safe while Dad stays inside, warm and dry. It’s called TRUST. Trust your son, your neighborhood and your own parenting — as in teaching the boy to not go off with anyone but the bus — and you’re ready for anything. More important: So’s the boy!

I really doubt the guy intends to use his drone for child safety. It does sound like a hobby. But if in three years’ time the air each weekday morning is thick with child-hovering gyrocopters, well…you read it here second. –  L.

Look! Up above! It’s a helicopter! It’s a parent! It’s a child drone! (Photo by Paul Wallich)

28 Responses to Who Needs a Helicopter? Welcome to DRONE Parenting!

  1. Suzanne November 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    I’m pretty sure I could fix this problem with a badminton racked.

  2. Emily November 30, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    Not only is that a massive waste of time, it’s a huge, flying message that says, first of all, “I don’t trust my child,” and second, “Please steal my smartphone.”

  3. Mark Davis November 30, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    Yeah, while I do identify with the geek/maker spirit of conceiving, designing and buliding such a thing, you’re absolutely right – this is pointless because it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Plus, it’s just creepy.

  4. CrazyCatLady November 30, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Looks like one rainy day would take care of it. Or in my area, a windy day.

    I don’t see the point. If he is worried about abduction, sitting home in front of the computer only means that he gets to see the abductor, but won’t be close enough to actually do anything. Same as if he was watching out the window.

    Maybe the kid hates school and has been skipping school by slinking into the bushes until the bus passes by. But no, he said this was a grade school kid, who usually still like school. At least until they feel it is uncool for dad to walk them to the bus stop.

    I foresee his son using this in a few years. To get a better view of the neighbor girls sunbathing, to look in a window at the girl undressing….

  5. MotherT December 1, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    Actually I’ve fantasized about just such a way to “follow” my son myself on quite a few occasions, but for a slightly different reason.

    See, here’s the thing: He’s been walking to and from school or bus stop for 3 years now. In that time, I’ve heard some interesting stories from neighbours about his antics. You know, the usual young boy type stuff: balancing on the curb, daydreaming, wandering, stopping to pet dogs, chatting with whoever is outside, all that sort of stuff. One of my neighbours once told me that my son is so much fun to watch he tries to make a point of being outside when he walks by, just to see what he’s up to.

    I’m jealous of my neighbours who get to see this side of my son. One of those spy helicopters would come in very handy to let me in on it.

  6. Stephanie December 1, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    @MotherT That’s so true. Kids are so different when we aren’t watching them.

  7. Emily December 1, 2012 at 1:07 am #

    Here’s another take–what if the dad in the article built the helicopter for real, but made up the part about using it to follow his son to the bus stop, just to see what people would say?

  8. Zozimus December 1, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    Four hundred metres? There’s another invention that would work well: the window. Through which you could glance if you suspected that your son was playing with dirt instead of getting to the bus stop on time. Remember when that was the only reason a parent would want to keep an eye on a kid?

  9. JaneW December 1, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Sounds like a Project to me. A lot of folks do this, especially men. They decide to build something, or do something, and it ceases to be about the goal and winds up just being about the excitement of doing it.

    My uncle spent about 10 years supposedly working on his own airplane. Never built it, but filled his whole garage with parts. My husband decided to take up hunting, and the next thing I know, he’s got special gear to let him rappel up and down trees, and practicing every free weekend! Well, at least they’re having fun, right?

  10. mobk December 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    Coming soon to stores near you. The deluxe model will have airstrike capability against bullies that pester your children.

  11. m3m December 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    This is definitely a Project! The real WTF is: why does a DIY quadcopter need any justification besides “awesomeness?”

  12. Mike in Virginia December 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    I first saw this story over at Gizmodo (http://gizmodo.com/5964499/a-genius-dad-made-a-flying-quadrocopter-to-walk-his-kids-to-the-bus-stop) and what I couldn’t believe were all of the comments talking about what a horrible parent he is. Not because of “helicopter parenting” (pun intended), but because a drone can’t stop a kidnapper. Seriously!? 400 meters to the bus stop, people!

  13. Andy December 2, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    @Zozimus window is not that cool and you do not have to build it. It is already there. Things are interesting only if you have to build them, boring otherwise.

    Trust me, I know engineers.

  14. Kim December 2, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    I’m shocked! I’m appalled!

    Actually, I’m not.

    Sounds like the guy was looking for a project. My dad and brother are the same way. Growing up you in our house meant never knowing what would come flying, crawling or zapping out at you.

  15. Yan Seiner December 2, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    As an engineer, I have to say that this is how engineers work. I have a travel van; some years ago I would stop and take pics of the road as we drove. So I thought, “Would be nice to have a little webcam that did that for me on its own.”

    Fast forward 7 years, the “little webcam” now takes pictures, looks up the nearest point of interest in a database, date, time, location stamps the pictures, adds the temperature, elevation, and vehicle speed and bearing. It also automatically downloads the pics to the home server.

    But wait…. It also serves up movies to the Roku in the van, provides wifi to my kids’ iPods, and lights up a freeze warning so I know when the roads are freezing up.

    This helicopter looks exactly like that. A cool toy to exercise the creative juices. My guess is that it will be used once or twice, and then repurposed to some other project, hopefully with the son’s help.

    It has nothing to do with helicopter parenting, and everything with engineers scratching an itch.

  16. Yan Seiner December 2, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Oh, and for those who keep claiming this won’t stop kidnappers, remember, this is version 0.1.

    The final version will be self-guided and have facial recognition directly connected to the sex-predator database, and air-to-surface missiles to shoot any predator or bully that comes along.

    ……

    Just kidding. But remember, it’s dangerous to give an engineer ideas.

  17. Donna December 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    @ Yan – I want your van.

  18. Erics December 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    It’s called being lazy AND fearful at the same time. What I like to call ‘Selective Paranoia’.

  19. Jenne December 2, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Yes, the guy was obviously looking for an excuse to build a quad copter.

    Honestly, this would be a good ‘training wheels’ for a dad to step back from walking the child to the bus stop. Especially if he’s concerned that the child might lose focus and dawdle off to do something else! :)

    If we could lure my toddler son to the bus with a drone helicopter our mornings would be a lot smoother, I’d say.

  20. Havva December 3, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    A few months ago a tech geek friend told me “You know it is only a matter of time before helicopter parents have ACTUAL helicopters.”

    Later when I was talking about our county’s supervision rules (no kid alone, even in own backyard, until 8yrs old).

    He started trying to game the rules and started mentally designing a drone. He even suggested that facial recognition software could be tweaked to recognize the top of your kids head so that the helicopter could do automatic station keeping on your kid. Or (geep) chip the kid so the helicopter follows that signal. I pointed out that our county’s supervision “guidelines” require that parents provide such supervision to be able to “immediately intervene.” Thinking this was intended as a parent telling a kid what to do, he calmly suggested it would be trivial to install a two way communications device on the helicopter. I suggested that they intended you be able to physically stop whatever. Which is when the drone design got silly, since we would be exceeding the weight capacity of a toy helicopter anyway. Something about ramming bullies and a grappling hook to just pick the kid up and take them home if they got into trouble (e.g. injured from falling off bike) or if the kid attempted to violated a preset parameter (e.g. don’t cross Main street).
    I wish I didn’t live in a county that treats a 6 year old alone in their own back yard like a toddler. But it would definitely be a strange scary world if the engineers start working out drones to try circumventing these rules.

  21. Cardinal December 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    I know this dad and am entirely confident that this project provided a lot of quality one-on-one time with the son, who also loves to tinker and build cool things on his own and gets lots of chance to do so. The drone angle is completely tongue-in-cheek.

  22. Kay December 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    “A few months ago a tech geek friend told me “You know it is only a matter of time before helicopter parents have ACTUAL helicopters.””- that is funny!

    We are just under 400 meters (yeah, I looked it up to compare) and my 10 and 7 year old walk to school alone and not always together either. He doesn’t mention how old his child is, just “grade school” age.

    But yeah, I agree with some others, this guy really wants to build this just for the sake of building it.

  23. paul December 3, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    I have to admit I was more than a little freaked out to see commenters screaming ZOMG Kidnappers! (because that’s always such a risk at a small-town bus stop with a bunch of parents waiting with their kids. So it’s probably a useful corrective to be slagged for not trusting my 8-year-old (Direct quote: “I wish school had never been invented”) to make his way down the four-wheel-drive-required-in-winter hill to the bus in a timely fashion at 0-dark-30. Insofar as I was imagining this might work at all, it would have been a nice set of training wheels. But luckily for us all the technology really isn’t up to it.

    Anyone know where I can find some laser-rated safety glasses sized for an 8-year-old?

  24. Yan Seiner December 3, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    @Cardinal: I love it. I build stuff with my son all the time, often for no reason than to build stuff. My wife had gotten used to all the half-built and half-unbuilt stuff laying around. Tell this dad: Great job!

  25. Yan Seiner December 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    @Donna: I just added another wrinkle: since I know how fast the van is moving, I know when it’s stopped. 5 minutes after it stops, it starts blinking an LED and displays an “Alarm Armed and Ready” message on the little LCD screen that’s now attached to it.

    No alarm, but I figure the Hollywood techno-nonsense will ward off any would-be thieves. :-)

  26. John December 7, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Unrelated to parenting, privately piloted minidrones used for any and all purposes are coming soon. The FAA is writing guidelines to come out in 2015, bc it is a bit underregulated now.

    Your local law enforcement will use these. Your local TV news might too. Environmental and civil liberties groups around the world are already using these to film protests or hunting clubs, documenting official misbheavior. We think “drones” and we think “ugh — surveillance — death to children in Pakistan.” That’s as it should be … but all kinds of uses for these, both good and bad, are going to be very common in the next decade.

  27. renee_athome January 25, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    How about be a PARENT and walk with the child to the bus stop?!
    This is a fabulous opportunity to talk “one-on-one” with your own offspring! Talk about the day, talk about the weather, talk about friends, talk about homework, talk about upcoming plans… spend time with your child and ENJOY THEM! <3

    Creating the drone sounds awesome… but not for this use.

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