By Cole Perschon
“Drone”, a buzzword in recent media, has carried multiple meanings and stigmas, but what is a drone really, and how does it apply to this article? Just within the past 15 years, domestic drones have become more inexpensive and widely available. Today commercial drones have been given more sobering titles, by agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration, to help take the public’s violence-hungry eye away from the deadly military “drones” used overseas. Most commonly they are referred to as Unmanned Aircraft Systems [UAS], which they will be referred to as for the duration of this article. UASs have revolutionized many areas of both work and play in their commercial uses during the last five years. The addition of an onboard camera has been one of the biggest innovations leading to many new applications of UASs. Onboard cameras have not only led to the birth of a new sport, FPV Drone Racing, but have also dramatically added to, and changed, filmography and videography. UASs and their accessory technologies have even helped save species from extinction; like the orangutan and the elephant, from poachers in Southeast Asia. In these and many other areas, UASs are showing incredible potential, but here is why these 3 uses outshine the rest.
Many of the plant and animal species that have gone extinct in recent years have been at the fault of humans, both directly and indirectly. Conservation and protection of plant and animal species encapsulates many different fields of work, in which many of these fields can be bettered through technology and the help of UASs in particular. Current common means of wildlife monitoring is conducted on foot, and by other manned modes of transportation, which means that surveys currently are not done often. Not only has the recent experimental implementation of UASs for conservation efforts saved time and money but it has also increased productivity. UASs are more economically beneficial to use and could play a large role in stopping the indirect extinctions of species, because of the increased efficiency and new capability. Many UASs being implemented in conservation efforts today are mounted with onboard cameras and armed with smart flight controllers, capable of autonomously flying along a pre-set path, as well as remotely searching for points of interest. Through the help of these technologies, UASs have mapped population densities among several species in Southeast Asia more accurately and with less disturbance or time consumption, at a dramatically cheaper cost. Although, despite the benefits from this example, using UASs in conservation efforts like this one could potentially give rise to safety, privacy, and data security conflicts.
Cinematography in Films
Some of the public’s favorite movies from recent years’ feature scenes shot by UASs. The Wolf of Wall Street’s outdoor patio party and Skyfall’s rooftop motorcycle chase are two examples of scenes filmed by a UAS. In the past, similar shots could be obtained by the use of either a helicopter, crane or other form of expensive, potentially dangerous, or slow means. UASs are saving film crews both time and money, as well as providing new visionary styles of cinematography this way. The shots taken in these two movies used a UAS because those exact shots could “literally” only be performed by one. They featured videography styles, such as moving within close proximity to objects while still executing agile movements, that could only be performed by a UAS, specifically a multirotor. The footage still looks very smooth and unaffected by the multirotor’s movements, however, because of a three-axis stabilizing gimbal that houses the movie quality camera onboard the UAS, a common practice in drone videography. Despite the many advantages of using UASs in cinematography, however, UASs are once again not without their tradeoffs, particularly in flight time and current airspace legality restrictions, when it comes to the application of filming movies.
As for the play side of things, one of the most innovative, and close to my heart, creations is “FPV drone racing”. First-person-view [FPV] racing takes place when a camera is connected to a video transmitter on board a UAS, and sends video of that UAS’s flight, in real time, back to a receiver, usually video goggles or a monitor. Born from a scattered handful of hobbyists in car garages and forests, the new “extreme” motorsport has gained immense popularity and investments, not to mention its’ own show on ESPN and several racing leagues and associations already. The UASs used in racing are extremely small in size and light in weight but are also incredibly powerful and agile. Armed with miniature high-resolution cameras like the GoPro, pilots have been able to record their flights in HD and upload them to YouTube, one of the biggest accelerators of the sport. The new sports’ recent growth in popularity is also in part due to the recent decrease in price and increase in the quantity of parts produced that are required to build a drone, making it easier for pilots to get into the sport. Compared to Formula 1 Racing, this new sport is both more affordable, and safer because operators are never actually in harm’s way. However, there are slim safety hazards for bystanders, but even less so than in other motorsports.
“Drones” are pretty amazing, and we are just scratching the surface on their capabilities. The uses listed above have really grabbed the attention and support of many governments, companies, and individuals, including myself, and I believe these to be the most promising new uses of 2016. The birth of some of this new UAS technology subsequently has created many other technologies. Technologies and ideas that could’ve never come to be without the introduction of UASs. But sadly, as with most things in life, there are negative aspects. The introduction of onboard cameras has caused quite a stir, people worrying about their safety and privacy, and legal changes are continuing to be implemented because of this. These issues, and many like them, are being identified in hopes of finding solutions and for a better implementation of UASs into society. Altogether, technological advancement is inevitable and people should make an effort so that UAS technologies are greeted with welcoming hands into society. And for the love of god, please stop shooting them down.