Flying drones indoors can end up like this

Flying drones indoors is rarely a wise decision. Flying large drones indoors near innocent bystanders is asking for trouble. So when TGI Friday’s mistletoe-toting drones injured someone in a cramped restaurant in Brooklyn, well, we should’ve seen this coming.

Last month, the Texas-based restaurant chain announced a promotion whereby DJI Phantom drones armed with mistletoe would troll a UK location looking for “cozy couples” to ambush with, well, what we traditionally associate with the parasitic plant — an obligation to smooch.

The idea was cute, if entirely self-serving, not to mention potentially dangerous. Gizmodo dismissed it as a marketing stunt. Back in 2013, a couple of festive DIYers launched a quadcopter toting mistletoe in San Francisco’s Union Square, having some nice, clean, SFW fun with no corporate motives. And while TGI Friday’s doesn’t have the same charitable intentions, its sin was its choice of venue.

couple kiss under drone image

Couple kiss: George and Carmen Gonzalez, who have been coming to TGI Friday’s for about 16 years, kissed underneath a drone carrying mistletoe at the Sheepshead Bay eatery on Dec. 4. Photo by Georgine Benvenuto (This was prior to Georgine’s “close encounter”, of course.)

If a wise commander chooses his battlefield carefully, then TGI Friday’s screwed up worse than Xerxes at Thermopylae. To wit — they deployed their drones indoors, not at a public square. Anyone who doesn’t see the obvious danger in flying large objects with spinning rotors mere feet from human spectators in cramped quarters needs to bone up on their military history (or learn some common sense).

When TGI Friday’s debuted their mistletoe drone fleet in New York City, they deployed two drones — a smaller 10-inch quadcopter and a large 23-inch drone with six rotors and no prop guards. The Brooklyn Daily had dispatched a news team to cover the historic PDA moment, and what ensued was the world’s first drone strike inside a restaurant.

As Vanessa Ogle of the Brooklyn Daily recounted, “The two remote-controlled helicopters dangling sprigs of mistletoe were intended to spread holiday romance, but one of them flew out of control and clipped Courier photographer Georgine Benvenuto in the nose with one of its spinning, uncovered blades.”

“It literally chipped off a tip of my nose,” said Benvenuto, using tissues to stanch the blood. “It took off part of my nose and cut me here, right under my chin.”

And apparently, the restaurant chain’s drone operator is blaming the injured photographer for the mishap.

[Drone operator David Quiones] “had encouraged our reporter to let him land the smaller of the two aircraft on her hand, but she flinched when the 10-inch drone touched down — and he said that is what caused the four-bladed flying machine to careen into the face of our photographer nearby. But Benvenuto insisted that the responsibility lies with the man operating the controls.”

Let’s face it — this isn’t war, and no one (thank god) is seriously injured. But this is a stern reminder that drones — even consumer models — can cause serious injury if used recklessly. A “drone” is only as safe as its operator. Also, a cramped restaurant is not the best place for flying mistletoe.

Henry Sapiecha

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