With units selling for $80 to $30,000 plus, there are a lot of drones available and a lot that fall (pun intended) between idiot toys and military armament.
Drone sales this year are projected to approach 4.3 million units with an estimated value of about $1.7 billion, representing a 167 percent sales increase in two years.
Businesses across the board are coming up with new ideas on how they can use the devices to save time, money and do things that keep folks out of danger.
The only problems are wading through the morass of government regulation, FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) and stupid people.
Every other day, there’s a story about drones — drones interfering with pilots or emergency personnel; drones peeping; drones causing fear and paranoia from above; drones disrupting sporting/public/family events by crashing; and drone hunters (something like skeet).
The market is so big, has so much potential and so much sticky stuff that legal pros have become specialists … drone lawyers.
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.
Their rush to fill the gap is logical because we all know there will be a considerable backlash from illegal drone usage and that a major catastrophe could set back the industry for years.
Of course, when a soon-to-be automated auto features the ravenous things in an ad reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, it doesn’t help much.
Since there’s no uniform global or national approach to the legal use of drones, manufacturers and professional users are doing their darndest.
The potential — for sales and especially applications — are outta sight:
• Agriculture/farming services/spraying
• First responder services — police, fire, medical
• Utilities — pipeline, powerline inspection
• Construction management/supervision
• Scientific research
• Package delivery (Amazon Prime Air, but DHL is already doing it.)
What do they all have sort of in common?
That’s probably why the Motion Picture Association of America spent more than $4 million over the past two years lobbying to make it easier for filmmakers to use small drones for filmmaking.
And drone film work isn’t just for the big-film, news people anymore. High-end digital cameras and CGI (computer-generated imagery) effects have slashed the cost of film production.
It’s one of the reasons people like Jeff Foster, co-founder of the Drone Coalition developed strong relationships with DJI and other drone manufacturers. China-based DJI is currently the world leader with about 45 percent market share.
Foster also gets to test all the new compact 4K cameras that can be used with drones like GoPro’s new Hero and Blackmagic’s latest Micro Cinema.
Foster and other serious professionals carried out an educational/informational program at the National Association of Broadcasters convention. They also are involved in other industry conferences/conventions to ensure drones are used properly by the film/video industry.
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 Beach, Fla., working on his commercial pilot license and a 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.
Helmly’s goal is to teach newcomers the art and skill of safe flying, focusing on flight plans and shared skies. The licensed private pilot thinks of safety first for airline and small-craft pilots as well as instances of emergency aircraft. “Sometimes people have to use common sense and there are times when choosing not to fly is the safest and wisest option,” he said.
People in the film industry know his dad — Dave Helmly, Adobe’s senior manager, World Wide Technical Field Team ProVideo.
As a result of their efforts and hundreds of other like-minded folks, drones are slowly gaining ground beyond the kids, and other individuals, flying them around town and peeking into windows and backyards.
Drones had a huge presence at this year’s Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture Oshkosh event — an annual congregation 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 (i.e. governmental overregulation).
The overwhelming challenge in the U.S., as in most countries, is that legislators only pay attention to those who holler the loudest, which is why privacy advocates have such a big influence over lawmakers.
And they aren’t all wrong because all you need is a credit card and you too can become a proud drone pilot and the envy of all of your Google glass friends. Customer common sense and good judgment aren’t high on the retailers’ check list for a sale.
Because of heavy lobbying by manufacturers and business users, the U.S. House Committee on Small Business finally gotten around to discussing the commercial use of drones by businesses.
Of course, no one told the chairman, Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), that millions of drones are in safe, sane, profitable use around the globe when he said, “We will have a conversation about how America can once again lead the world in a new era of flight.”
Fortunately, the U.S. finally named two highly qualified officials (Hoot Gibson and Earl Lawrence) to give more emphasis on using UASs (unmanned aerial systems) or drones in the country’s airspace. And to the FAA’s credit, it has been issuing a lot more than 300 Section 333 Exemptions for business and film work.
Filmmakers were the first group to get the exemption, even though most still tread lightly by getting added approval for film flights from local officials and briefing residents on their video projects.
The global market is just lifting off for drones, and it isn’t without some serious technology barriers that must be solved, but the potential is outta sight.
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 $4.8 billion 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 enamored with drone footage/images. (Face it, it’s cool!)
• 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.