HomeThis Drone Zoom Lens Can Identify Your Face From 1,000 Feet Away

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A popular argument used by law enforcement and drone enthusiasts, when people say they are worried about drones spying on them, is this: The cameras on drones just aren’t that good, a drone would have to be right next to you for it to be able to see anything important. Say goodbye to that argument, forever.

This is the ​Aeryon HDZoom30, a camera that can be ​mounted to the SkyRanger, a small drone used by the military, law enforcement, and commercial operators. And it can see your face or license plate, even if you can’t see it. Seriously, watch the video above. No other product like this exists—not on a drone that small, at least.

“In a law enforcement case, it’s important for a tactical police operation to be covert. You have to be far enough from a subject of interest or else the mission or operation is compromised,” Aeryon’s David Proulx told me. “We’re able to read a license plate or identify a person from over 1,000 feet away … a commercial inspector can read the serial number on an insulator from 100 feet away.”

I’m writing about the HDZoom30 not to be a fear monger or scare anyone. Drones do and will continue to do amazing things for many classes of people. But no longer can we say that drones aren’t watching you unless you can see them.

We all knew this was coming, eventually. Police say drones can’t provide persistent surveillance. Well, batteries get better. They say zoom lenses are too heavy to fly on a drone. Well, cameras get smaller, and quality gets better. Technological limitations are not necessarily an excuse not to have a debate about privacy sooner, rather than later.

The HDZoom30 weighs just over a pound. It has a 30x zoom lens, it shoots at 1080p. Whatever follows it will be smaller, cheaper, and better. Aeryon can’t be faulted for creating technology that police are demanding—the company told me that the product only exists because it’s had so much demand for a covert, small, powerful camera.

And make no mistake, this is a huge step forward.

“This is something that allows a new class of aerial video,” he said. “The physics of flying things, be they small or large, is pretty inescapable. We’re delivering the tools that our customers asked for. In terms of regulatory structure, [lawmakers] need to decide what the right thing is to do.”