MISSOURI CITY -- The Gallegos family lives in one of those beautiful two-story suburban homes in Sienna Plantation, a place with a back yard that has a waterfall, a pool, a putting green and an outdoor grill area with granite counter tops.
Back yard, says Gabe Gallegos. Man, we're homebodies. We love to come out here with the kids.
Sometimes they barbecue and watch sports events on the big screen TV sets mounted near the grill. Surrounding their yard stands a privacy fence that s eight-feet high and tall enough to block the view from the street and their neighbors.
We have the fences and then we put a lot of shrubbery around, Gallegos says. And then my neighbors here have put in bamboo that's over 20-foot tall.
But their fence can't keep out the prying electronic eyes mounted on, of all things, a drone.
A loud buzz echoes across the yard as an aircraft small enough to sit on a coffee table rises above the fence, carried aloft by six spinning propellers. A high-definition camera records the Gallegos family's every move, capturing the image of a father and his two children peering into the sky.
That is the darnedest thing I've ever seen, Gallegos says.
The drone rotates gracefully, panning its camera to peek over the balcony of the family's home.
Right now, it's able to look in my second floor, no problem, Gallegos says. Kinda feel a little vulnerable now, I guess.
Well, maybe not this time. This drone has come by invitation only -- brought at our behest by the owners of JAM Aviation, a small photography business marketing its aerial video services to everyone from real estate agents to the oil and gas industry.
They insist that they do not invade the privacy of homeowners or anybody else.
But we asked them to show us their drone because lawmakers across the nation, including in Texas, are so worried about these things they're stumbling into the almost uncharted territory of regulating unmanned aerial vehicles.
When you think of the word drone, you probably think of the controversial military aircraft conducting surveillance and bombing targets in the Mideast. Then again, if you're from Texas, you might think of the unmanned craft patrolling the border with Mexico.
But most drones are much smaller and much more readily available than you might imagine. They're basically remote controlled aircraft very much like the helicopters routinely sold at shopping mall kiosks. Anybody can buy them and anybody can fly them.
At the M&M Hobby Center in Bellaire, amid the model planes, trains and automobiles that have fascinated generations of hobbyists, you can buy a lightweight drone with a high-definition camera for as little as $300.
They are what's coming, says Jeff Parker, a store manager. Like it or not, they're going to be more and more prevalent.
Hence, the attention from lawmakers like state Senator John Whitmire, a co-sponsor of legislation that seeks to regulate the use of drones. Although America's airspace has long been controlled by the federal government, this is one of many pieces of drone legislation popping up at statehouses across the nation.
If you use that to invade someone s' privacy, you go over someone's backyard, you do surveillance on their house, their business, it would be a Class C misdemeanor, Whitmire says.
But he readily admits that the bill is just the start of what promises to be a long-running public policy debate about the proliferation of cheap drones.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been trying to get a handle on the rapid development of these crafts, working on safely integrating them into the nation's airspace system. Last year, the FAA created an office to handle the issues related to the use of what are broadly known as unmanned aircraft systems.
All of this talk about state and local regulation of drones bothers the guys who fly the drone for JAM Aviation.
We shoot videos, we don't shoot people, says Mason Turner, who wears a pair of goggles that show him what his drone sees. There's no armed weapons on these things. We fly around. They're not stealthy. You will hear them coming.
The Gallegos family certainly did and they actually thought the drone looked pretty cool.
Now, it's not very silent, Gallegos says. Still, if you had things back here you didn't want people to see, they'd certainly be able to see it right away. Your kids, your family. Just really invasion of privacy, I would think.