In February 2015, NoFlyZone.org debuted to widespread press attention. The site said people could submit their addresses and have a geo-fence placed around their home so, as the site's name suggested, drones would not be able to fly over them.
The site got a lot of attention. Here's a partial list of outlets that covered NoFlyZone: Slate, TechCrunch, Yahoo Tech, Ars Technica, Mashable, Fortune, International Business Times, The Daily Dot, Zeit Online, TheNextWeb, PC Mag, IGN, TechTimes, Sophos's Naked Security blog, PC World, and NPR.
Within 24 hours more than 10,000 people reportedly signed up for NoFlyZone. The plan was to get drone manufacturers to agree to sign on with the service. At launch only a handful were on board, but NoFlyZone founder Ben Marcus told Slate, "We expect that all the major manufacturers will join us in the near future."
Turns out that didn't pan out. As so often happens in the tech industry, the site launched to great accolades, collected people's information, but then accomplished nothing, and, with little fanfare, shut down. NoFlyZone is no more.
Around the same time he started NoFlyZone, Marcus also started a company called AirMap, which is still around and raised $15 million in April. AirMap creates navigational apps and services for drone pilots, users, and manufacturers. Greg McNeal, Marcus's co-founder at the company, answered my questions about NoFlyZone yesterday via email.
"NoFlyZone no longer exists," McNeal explained. "Ben Marcus started the system as a way to help broker a compromise between the benefits of drone technology and people’s concerns with drones."
But drone manufacturers didn't feel the need to participate in a regulatory regime without legal force.
"While many people embraced the idea of letting drone operators know that flying over their property wasn’t welcomed, there was no clear legal basis on which those residents could exclude drones," said McNeal. "Because of that, manufacturers didn’t feel the need to participate in the system, so the business was closed."
I asked when exactly NoFlyZone shut down, and how many people signed up before it did, but haven't heard back yet from McNeal. He did tell me via email that all the information collected through the site has been deleted, and that the site currently serves as a "landing page for individuals interested in finding out how to protect critical infrastructure and sensitive sites that have some regulatory or legal restriction associated with them." In other words, an ad for AirMap.
This shouldn't be terribly surprising, since other manufacturer-enforced no-fly zones have also been removed over the past year. After a drone crashed on the White House lawn, DJI, a large drone maker, started programming their drones so that they weren't able to fly into the area. They'd already programmed them so that a number of airports were no-fly zones. However, a new DJI drone model that launched late last year has a scaled back version of this programming, which allows for certain restricted areas to be unlocked with permission. A note on DJI's site points out the full list only applies to older models.
The FAA also has regulations regarding drones, and as I reported Monday, the government released a new set of "best practices" with regards to privacy which drone manufacturers and users can opt to follow or not. But, since manufacturers "didn't feel the need to participate" in one optional system, perhaps we shouldn't expect them to feel the need to participate in another. Just a thought.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org