Drone pricing is closely tied to load capacity, flight time and maneuverability.
A camera-equipped drone can cost between $500 and $30,000. While the ultimate capabilities are different, each does the same thing—provide the ability to capture video. So what’s the problem?
This year, drone sales are projected to be about 4.3M units with an estimated value of about $1.7B. That represents a 167 percent sales increase in just two years.
Businesses across the board are coming up with new ideas on how they can use the devices every day to save time, money and do things that keep folks out of danger. TV stations are only now dipping their collective toes into the drone water. Why the slow take up?
Initial problems center on a morass of government regulation, FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) and stupid people. That includes the often overzealous public officials – cops— out to protect innocent people from toy aircraft.
And yes, I have personal experience being confronted by a city cop while flying my own aircraft over a rural wheat field. “What are you doing,” he said. “Flying airplanes,” I replied. It was only after he saw multiple aircraft in the bed of my truck that he backed off. I guess the one airplane flying above his head field was insufficient to confirm my statement.
Virtually every day, somewhere there is another story about a drone almost causing a calamity: a drone flying near an aircraft or over emergency personnel, some drone peeping somewhere it shouldn’t, drones disrupting sporting/public/family events or crashing nearby. The White House is not immune from such an event. People even complain about the “noise” drones make. Excuse me, can I complain about the noise from your barking dog!
Then we have the drone hunters, folks who take delight in shooting down someone’s hobby drone. Such action usually gets the shooter in hot water with the cops. I only wish the owners of barking dogs received similar treatment,.
This image, a direct rip-off from Alfred Hitchcock’s epic classic of “The Birds”, symbolizes how some, especially regulators, view the drone phenomena.
The market is so big, has so much potential and so much sticky stuff that legal pros have become specialists. Now we have drone lawyers.
A good resource on this is contained in a blog post from David Oxenford, from the firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer. Oxenford’s blog includes a summary of paper written by Rachel Wolkowitz, an attorney with his firm. Wolkowitz closely follows drone regulations, more accurately called UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) and their use for newsgathering under current FAA rules. She offered these cautions for both current and future drone use.
The FAA has taken the aggressive stance that all commercial operations are illegal unless specifically authorized – and to the FAA, newscasting is a commercial activity, requiring special permission. While the FAA is developing general rules for commercial operations of small drones, it has developed a special petition procedure called a Section 333 exemption to speed approvals in the interim. On the plus side, the FAA has authorized more than a thousand operators under this Section 333 procedure. But these approvals generally contain more than two dozen conditions, such as a prohibition on operations over people, which may limit a drone’s effectiveness for many types of news coverage.
Current FAA policy only extends liability to operators themselves, and the FAA has expressly disclaimed authority over newscasters that may buy footage from contractors or other third-party operators. That being said, stations may be vulnerable to legal claims under traditional tort law if their agent drops a drone on a bystander or otherwise captures footage of private events in violation of state or local law.
To help drones reach their full potential of “practical” use, organizations like the Small UAV Coalition have emerged.
The Coalition’s goal is to work with government agencies to develop reasonable legislation and governance, streamline application permits and educate/train people for personal and professional drone usage.
Then there is the government solution.The FAA is conducting a beta test of an easy-to-use smartphone app called, B4UFLY. The free app helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly. A PDF of the FAA's B4UFLY training guide can be found here.
What’s the big deal about drone footage?
I’d seen drone footage on TV for a couple of years. At first, I didn’t understand how the beautiful, high-altitude, fly-by video was captured. The Broadcast Bridge soon provided the answer. Piloted drones equipped with cameras provided those scenic images. Now everyone wanted to have that option.
The fast adoption of drone video capture may have begun with last year’s DJI video of Iceland's erupting Bárðarbunga volcano and the Holuhraun lava field it created. The footage was spectacular and would have been impossible with other aerial filmmaking tools.
The benefit of drone video is probably why the MPAA spent more than $4M over the past two years lobbying to make it easier for filmmakers to use small drones for film-making.
One of the first eagerly anticipated uses of drones was in the budget film industry – Tellywood and Indies. Low-cost drones equipped with 4K cameras seem to have been made solely for filmmakers to capture images and scenes that were previously either extremely expensive or too dangerous to execute. Combined with lower-cost 4K cameras and CGI, now even budget films can have truly exciting effects.
That is one reason Jeff Foster, Co-Founder of the Drone Coalition, developed strong relationships with drone manufacturers like DJI. This Chinese-based drone manufacturer is currently the world leader with about a 45 percent market share.
Foster also gets to test all the new compact 4K cameras that can be mounted on drones, like GoPro’s new Hero and Blackmagic’s latest Micro Cinema.
Foster, and other serious professionals, organized an educational/informational program at last year’s NAB show. They are also involved in other industry conferences/conventions to ensure drones are used properly in the film/video industry.
This year’s NAB Show has two drone-oriented Field Workshops, “Aerial Videography Field Workshop - Beginner Flyers” and “Aerial Videography Field Workshop for Advanced Flyers”. The workshops take place on Saturday, April 16th and Sunday from 8:00am – 6:00pm. Additional information is available here.
The NAB 2016 show will provide two drone flying workshops. One for beginners, one for advanced flyers. See text for registration link.
Peripherally associated with the film industry, David Helmly Jr. is another who is focused professionally and personally on getting drones off the ground. He’s a senior at Embry Riddle University in Daytona, working on his commercial pilot license and degree in Aeronautical Sciences. He’s also an avid weekend drone warrior, flying a range of DJI drones, and has assisted in numerous DJI/Adobe events.
His goal is teaching newcomers the art and skill of safe flying, focusing on teaching new drone pilots how to develop and use pre-planned flight paths. A licensed private pilot thinks of safety first when it comes to an aircraft. Drone pilots need to learn and implement that same mindset.
“Sometimes people have to use common sense and there are times when choosing not to fly is the safest and wisest option,” he noted.
Folks in the film industry may know his dad – Dave Helmly, Adobe’s Senior Manager World Wide Technical Field Team ProVideo.
Jeff Foster (middle), Co-Founder of the Drone Coalition, was an early adopter of drones for film-making. He and others have made it their mission to help the industry understand the importance of education, training and responsible flight operations.
Drones had a huge presence at this year’s EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) AirVenture Oshkosh event – an annual congregation of 10s of thousands of flying machines from around the globe. The event attracts over a half-million eye-candy hungry folks from everywhere.
The Drone Coalition, Drone Media Group and similar national/international drone manufacturer and user organizations are developing educational activities at every major conference and gathering to keep the industry out of harm’s way (governmental over regulation).
While it is possible for one person to handle the drone and camera controls, Jeff Foster is a firm believer in having a specially trained (and certified) drone pilot at the flight controls and a solid, creative person handling the camera action.
Filmmakers were the first group to get an exemption, even though most movie crews still tread lightly by getting added approval for film flights from local officials and briefing residents on their video projects.
Still, according to KPCB (Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield Byer) the U.S. will represent 35 percent of the drone market, followed by Europe (30 percent) and China (15 percent). The drone market will represent more than $4.8B in hardware and software sales by 2021.
Fortunately for Foster and other aerial cinematographers, videographers and photographers, most experts say the film/photo industry will be the area of early major usage because:
- Studios, Indies and audiences are enamoured with drone footage/images
- The financial and technical barriers to entry are low
- Even where technical and financial barriers are higher, the increasingly technically astute industry is eager to get its hands on new technology
- A lot of filming occurs in tightly controlled environments where safety can be ensured, so exemptions are easier to obtain
Add things like aerial films of home/office real estate, insurance claim/property assessment, commercial/residential progress reporting, land development/research, and sport team/player analysis and the sky holds limitless potential for the film shooter.
Additional The Broadcast Bridge drone resources are listed below.
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