Even if you wanted to, I’m not sure how you could have avoided the name Austin Haughwout. It seems he has been everywhere since his initial media exposure.
Austin’s first stepped into the limelight when he was involved in a drone-related assault incident in May of 2014. During the incident, Andrea Mears, a 23-year-old woman in Connecticut assaulted a then 17-year-old Austin Haughwout. Austin was flying his quadcopter at Hammonasset State Park in Madison, Connecticut. While landing his fourth flight for the day, he was approached and then physically assaulted by Andrea. According to Haughwout, while Andrea walked over to him she was already on the phone, attempting to get the police to respond to her by claiming he was a “pervert” and austin“here taking pictures at the beach with a helicopter plane.” Austin was clever enough to surreptitiously record the entire event.
While Andrea was talking to the police on her cell phone, according to the video, she said, “Stop, stop, stop, this guy is taking pictures and trying to upload them from a camera. Can you guys get here? Can you guys hurry?”
Austin did the responsible thing and attempted to walk away. It was then, while waiting for the police to arrive, Andrea took it upon herself to “restrain” Austin. It was at this time Austin responds with “You’re assaulting me, you a–wipe!” As captured by video, Andreas’ attempts to restrain Austin include her grabbing Austin by the collar of his shirt and trying to reach her arm to punch at his face. At one point during the exchange, she even sticks her fingers into his mouth. After taking another few swings at Austin, Andrea said “Yeah, you’re going to see how it feels when the police come.”
Andrea obviously stepped over the line. If you haven’t seen the video yet, it’s worth a watch, I do have to warn you that it includes inappropriate language. The apex was reached when Andrea said “Maybe you shouldn’t be taking pictures of people on the beach! I’m going to beat you’re a–, you little motherf—-r.”
The police arrived with 10 cars, and based on Mears’ completely fabricated complaint, intent on arresting Austin. It would have been a case of she said vs. he said, except for the cell phone video that Austin had cleverly recorded.
Thanks to the video evidence, Andrea was charged with third-degree assault and breach of the peace. With the irrefutable evidence and the fact that Andrea fabricated her story, you would assume that Andrea faced reasonable punishment. In spite of Austin’s opposition, Andrea was granted probation. Adding insult to injury, Andrea received a form of probation that will be erased from her record after two years.
While a semi-memorable incident in itself, Austin’s story would have most likely faded to memory soon enough if not for his second step into the limelight. In July of this year, now 18-year-old, Austin released a short, 14-second YouTube video that demonstrated his latest quadcopter creation, a drone capable of carrying and firing a semi-automatic handgun. In the viral video that has been viewed over 3 million times, Austin shows his drone firing off four gunshots with no physical finger to pull the trigger. The drone manages the recoil surprisingly well, too.
If there was a moment that could be identified when Austin officially became infamous, this would be his moment. From the first view of his viral video forward, he would always be known as the first person to weaponize a consumer drone.
As mainstream media picked up on the story and as the story started to spread, interesting details started to come to light.
Originally, Austin’s father, Brett, said his son created the drone with his Central Connecticut State University professor as part of a project. When interviewed by CBS, Austin explained, “I am going for a degree in mechanical engineering, and this was an application of the technology that I have access to and education provided by my university.”
That the drone was developed with the help of an education institution was later debunked. A spokesperson for Central Connecticut State University stated engineering Professor Edward Moore “actively discouraged” Austin Haughwout from building it, saying it was “simply too dangerous.”
Austin’s father also said Austin had thoroughly searched the laws and made sure he wasn’t breaking any before constructing his custom quadcopter. This cannot be validated.
As you can imagine, there was a response from the local police, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the ATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). While many searched to determine if the teenage inventor had violated any federal or state laws, nothing was identified. Clinton Police Sgt. Jeremiah Dunn was quoted “It’s a case of technology surpassing current legislation. Legislation not keeping up with the technology that’s out there.”
While not illegal under federal or state law, according to the FAA, “current rules already prohibit/prevent any weapons being attached to any kind of aircraft.”
“We currently have rules in the books that deal with releasing anything from an aircraft, period.”
“Those rules are in place and that would prohibit weapons from being installed on a civil aircraft.”
That being said, the FAA is citing from part of the FAA code labeled ‘dropping objects’. While this may “cover” the weaponized drone case “officially,” it’s definitely not the original intended purpose of the FAA language, so I’m not sure exactly how effective it would be.
Then, right when stories of Austin’s gun-totting quadcopter were starting to fade, new stories appeared. This time just weeks later. Now, Austin was arrested, but surprisingly on completely unrelated charges. Charges completely unrelated to drones.
Austin was arrested for “interfering with an officer and failure to obey an officer’s signal” and then subsequently charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer.
According to Austin, he was parked outside of his town’s public library, using the free wi-fi to upload a homework assignment for a summer class he was enrolled in. When he was leaving, he noticed a Clinton Police Department officer pull into the parking lot. The officer followed him, detained him, requested back-up, and after a lengthy and somewhat odd exchange, Austin was allowed to leave and he presumably drove home. It wasn’t until days later he was notified a warrant had been issued . Similar to the incident on the beach, Austin captured his exchange with the police officers on video and it is available on YouTube.
After his warrant notification, things went from bad to worse for Austin when he voluntarily turned himself into the police. If you haven’t noticed a theme with Austin yet, it’s that he captures everything he can on video. That’s why when he walked into the police station, he brought along his GoPro.
According to Austin, he was told his GoPro couldn’t come with him, and that it would either be seized or would have to be left in the lobby. If left in the lobby, he was also told they would not accept responsibility. It was at that moment; he informed the officer that he would simply return it to his car. What happened next might surprise you. According to Austin, “… at which point I was thrown to the ground and had my head bashed against the wall and floor until I vomited and passed out. I woke up 45 minutes later in the hospital stripped naked and after being released, I was booked into jail on charges of assault of an officer and interfering with an officer.”
Remember I mentioned he captures everything he can on video? Leave it to Austin to have a backup camera, in addition to the GoPro, he also entered the police department with his cell phone in his underwear. In the end, both devices were confiscated by the police department.
While Austin has been attempting to go through legal channels to get his confiscated property returned, his motions have been denied. We may never get to see the videos that document the entire event from either his GoPro or cell phone. If you are curious to see video then you might want to contribute to Austin’s fundraising efforts. Austin is collecting donations using PayPal (email@example.com).
It seems that now that Austin has caught both public attention and then attention of law enforcement, he can’t lose it. Austin will always be infamous because he is the first weaponize a consumer drone, for better or worse it’s done. The question at this point really isn’t what he’s done, I’m more curious what will he do next?
The above article was originally written for the December issue of Multirotor Pilot Magazine. If you’d like me to write for your drone related magazine or blog, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.