You may not be able to drive a car at Burning Man, but you can fly a drone

Flying drones won’t be upping the artistry at this Burning Man display.
Flying drones won’t be upping the artistry at this Burning Man display.
Image: Reuters/Jim Urquhart
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Not many people think of drones as a form of creative expression. But at Burning Man, the week-long music and arts festival in the Nevada desert, drones are becoming their own kind of art. The festival has released instructions for attendees who wish to fly drones and full sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The drones will add to the kites, balloons, remote control helicopters and even skydivers that currently fill the Black Rock City airspace.

Traditionally, vehicles that resemble standard street vehicles are banned from the Nevada event to allow pedestrians and cyclists to frolic freely. The festival only allows “mutant vehicles” with a license, which can be obtained from the appropriately-dubbed Department of Mutant Vehicles.

To compensate for the ban, participants have designed vehicles made from furniture and have even reverted to using boats or trains to get around (for more on that, check out this or this). The only people allowed to use normal street vehicles are staff, those with disabilities and service vehicles.

The Department of Mutant Vehicles appears to be responding to participants’ growing interest in adding drones and UAVs to that list. Judging by Burning Man’s website, some probably wanted to bring vehicles but were restricted by the number of licenses allowed for this. The website states that “[if] the convenience of personal transportation is your primary goal, please rethink your intent. A primary factor driving your urge to drive should be the sharing of your creation with the rest of the community.” Drones are permitted without a license but pilots of UAVs, which have more sophisticated controls and monitoring systems, need to request permission.

But the drones may turn out to be more of a nuisance than a creative addition, giving the challenges of restricting their activity among the festival’s cap of 60,000 attendees (as of 2012). For example, drones with cameras are not permitted to record footage of people (due to the difficulties of getting their explicit consent). Drones and UAVs are not permitted to be flown over large crowds where crashing could cause injuries, or into the main circle during the “day of the Man burn,” which features a burning effigy.