Drone News

When it comes to telling a story, drones often provide the only way to get a big picture across.  San Francisco-based food innovator JUST set out to communicate what life is like in one neighborhood in Liberia – and went to the air to capture a compelling snapshot.

“The concept for JUST’s ad was simple. We wanted to show the world a place where people live hard but joyful lives with an unparalleled sense of pride, purpose and community,” says Andrew Noyes, JUST Head of Communications.  “Getting the shot wasn’t so simple. That place was West Point, one of them most crowded, chaotic areas in Monrovia, Liberia.”

“JUST’s resident filmmaker enlisted a four-person crew who — with limited time, resources and on-the-ground knowledge — packed their bags and passports for an exhilarating and emotional adventure they’d never forget,” says Noyes. “Our filmmaker told the team what we wanted to accomplish and discussed various ways to execute it. They eventually settled on using a drone that would deliver the camera into a camera operator’s hands who then finished the shot on the ground.”

Making it Work

“Enter Freefly’s Alta-8, a large eight-rotor drone — perfect for smooth, precise, and dynamic control of camera movement,” Noyes explains. “One crew-member was a pro at operating remote controlled camera rigs in unpredictable conditions and this time he’d have to deal with the hot sun, sweeping crosswinds and dive-bombing birds of prey. Another crew-member operated the camera during the flight and a third was the reluctant drone “catcher” who carried the camera (with the drone still attached) for the final leg of the single, seamless and stunning shot. A fourth served as first assistant camera, managing the 40lb. drone-camera’s focus and aperture from the ground.”

The team had multiple challenges to be mindful of:  “crowds of locals, mostly throngs of excited children, …poured into narrow streets and passageways to gawk at the spectacle,” says Noyes.  Local law enforcement and community leaders helped the team keep everyone safe while filming was going on.

While the filmmaker was meticulous about getting the perfect result, says Noyes, the shoot used a fraction of the crew and equipment that would typically be required to create the film. “Our resident filmmaker directed the shoot and ensured we got everything we needed – height (200 feet), distance (300 feet), performance, staging… as well as editing, sound design and music,” says Noyes. “He spent an entire day recording natural sound at different heights or altitudes across Monrovia for this shot.”

A Snapshot of Life

The result is an advertisement for JUST’s innovative food product, designed to combat food insecurity across the globe – but one that conveys the spirit of a place beautifully.

“West Point is a special place for me and my team and we wanted to celebrate the work that local farmers and entrepreneurs are doing to improve the lives of women and children in communities across Liberia,” said Josh Tetrick, cofounder and CEO of JUST – and one of team that conceptualized the short film. “Our goal was to take a snapshot of what life is like there and show how producing food that is delicious, nutritious, affordable and sourced locally can make a big difference in the lives of many people. Given the location’s challenging conditions, utilizing a drone was the only way we could tell the story in the way we knew it needed to be told.”

“Getting the shot was difficult but the end result made the long, hot days and multiple takes worth it,” said Tetrick.


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For real estate and land developers, drone surveys have opened up a world of options. Drone imagery has changed the front end of the project, offering highly accurate and detailed photographs and videos that give the total view of an entire expanse of property. This information can be retrieved within days rather than weeks, so that a developer with just an idea can validate the vision of the project before spending any more time or money.

Less Buck, More Bang

No developer can justify spending tens of thousands of dollars to stake acreage for development, or to commission aerial photography by plane, until the project feasibility is fully assured. But for a fraction of the cost of traditional survey means, developers can use drone services to survey a large land parcel to determine if it will fit their needs, before investors are even on board.

The envisioning stage of a project has always been hindered by reliance on old surveys or the lack of sufficient detail from aerial and satellite imagery. How much time and money do you tie up in an idea, to get to the stage of knowing it will be profitable? Drones now supply superior detail and accuracy up-front to identify more opportunities, and reveal more pitfalls, within an area.

While it now costs much less to survey specific parcels that a developer is interested in, using drones allows developers to take a deeper look at more parcels up-front. If you look at more parcels, you will always make a better land purchase. A drone can survey a 100-acre property in three days for a few thousand dollars.

One or two parcels thus become five or 10 properties under consideration. Big IS better when it means finding that perfect site for development. Using high-accuracy topography and orthomosaic maps from qualified drone companies can make this a reality.

The envisioning stage of every project involves a feasibility study across a number of fields, from funding to approval, to construction to ultimate return on investment. All the professionals involved in this process – from contractors to zoning boards, county authorities and local inspectors, and from investors to architects – will look at photographs first as the realistic view before moving on to any of the detailed drawings.

Drones can quickly and affordably fly over areas of varied terrain and capture potentially millions of data points for later software manipulation, all the while bringing back superb, high-resolution photographs that present all this data in a way that humans can immediately relate to.

Survey Accuracy

While drone affordability and rapid delivery time make drone surveys a game changer in the initial thinking and investment stages, the great feature of drone imagery lies in its accuracy, which benefits subsequent development work. Photographs and videos present a mass of data in a clear way, but engineers need drawings and measurements.

As planning evolves, the data returned from the initial drone survey can be overlaid into maps, topographic contour lines and even 3D models. These output files can be imported as shape-files, Autocad/DXF files and other industry-standard formats, integrating right into your existing workflow. Because the drone can fly close to the ground, and can maneuver dexterously around structures, true oblique imagery is returned showing side features that can’t be captured from higher above by satellite or plane.

Assuming the data commissioned is dense enough, drone survey images will be orthorectified to match not only their map coordinates but the elevations at each point also. Orthomosaic mapping results, with all images stitched into a coherent whole. Drainage and elevation calculations can be made from drawings all produced at scale across the parcel.

The great bonus of the drone is that its spectacular photography is also accurate enough to offer precise measurements, to within centimeters or finer. Many times, depending on the level of service commissioned, the exploratory survey data can be incorporated into the eventual construction work.

The Industry

The skill sets of a drone company and a survey firm are quite different, and as the field of drone surveying evolves, developers are using specialized drone service companies that also work extensively with surveyors. Piloting drones and investing in their rapid technological innovations typically takes a specialized drone company, while surveying is a professional skill. The two fields are synergizing well together, and real estate development loves it.

To gain a clear vision of our land we once had to go to the mountain top. Then we had planes, and then we had satellites, and now finally drones have supplied the missing piece of land development. Land surveying, and real estate developers, were always waiting for drones.


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The Las Vegas shooting in October of last year has caused massive ripple effects. It has fueled much of the ongoing gun-regulation discussion, the mental health conditions of potential perpetrators, and added to the conversation regarding unmanned aerial vehicles as a security element at large-scale events. Since the Route 91 Harvest festival at which Stephen Paddock opened fire on innocent civilians was a music festival, it only makes sense for event organizers thereafter to consider ramping up their preventative measures. In this particular case, it’s next month’s Coachella 2018 music festival that will serve as an example, as organizers are planning on implementing unmanned aerial vehicles as part of the event’s security forces.

According to TMZ, local law enforcement is apprehensive about letting this year’s Coachella festival unfold as usual as if this country didn’t just witness the largest mass-shooting in history. First responders will reportedly be prepared with tourniquets and other medical equipment intended to prevent massive blood loss. In addition, authorities intend to add drones as part of the increased surveillance system that concertgoers will see this year. Law enforcement reportedly told TMZ that “an abundance of caution” has led to the decision. Frankly, it’s a pretty bleak time in American history when people can’t see an artist perform without the fear of somebody shooting into the crowd, and that flying robots have to be deployed to prevent tragic scenarios like that from occurring, but that’s where we are now. 

The idea to deploy one or multiple drones above a massive music festival, in order to more accurately surveil the audience for potential threats, just makes logical, affordable, and practical sense these days. Soon after the Las Vegas incident, terrorism experts and authorities vocalized their professional opinions on drone-use post-emergency events, and how beneficial it would be to apprehend suspects more rapidly, and in a safer manner. We’ve seen law enforcement across the country clamor for UAV equipment over the past few months, as the tool can keep officers from harm’s way while providing invaluable data to those on the ground. 

It is unclear what kind of drones, how many, or how frequently they’ll be flown above the crowds at the event, which starts on Friday, April 13, but the decision has reportedly been made. The everlasting discussion pitting privacy and security priorities against each other continues. In the current cultural climate of the United States, it makes sense for these measures to be taken. Stay safe, and enjoy the music.


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Between now and 2020, Drones are big business according to Goldman Sachs, +$100 billion big. From Amazon to Uber and your neighbour's kid trying to take an aerial picture, Drones are going to be a big part of life once the law can get its act together. Unless you're Dominos, businesses seem to be struggling with how to apply the new technology and are back on forth on when to go in. How can you make the right decisions? Here's how.

I recently sat down with Robert Garbett (Founder and CEO of Drone Major Group - 'the global commercial trade organisation for the drone industry' and got some answers about where drones are doing in the next ten years and how businesses can take advantage of the technology now and later on. Overall, Garbett was clear that there is 'no one-size fits all' solution or framework when it comes to implementing drone tech. Businesses should focus evaluation on; "...their current technological position; the purpose for adoption; the environment of operation; it's associated risks, and the mindset within the business which is often the deciding factor between adoption and stagnation".

Garbett went on to discuss how he helps businesses that approach DMG; "[We talk about] where the business is now, where it wants to go (using drone technology) and how it is going to get there." The issue is usually a lack of understanding around what's possible and the cultural views around drone technology ; "[Doing this exercise] not only confirms that known issues can be addressed with drone technology but it often exposes further beneficial applications previously unknown to them. GDP also helps businesses understand the risks involved as "this ensures that all issues on the route to adoption are identified and addressed individually" according to Garbett.

Garbett believes businesses are missing a lot when it comes to the potential for drone technology; "...the possibilities and benefits always go far beyond what is generally understood or expected. [Drone technology] represents a paradigm shift in capability, enabling organisations to significantly reduce costs and increase safety and efficiency." Most businesses are unaware that drones exist for underwater for example - for some that won't be relevant but for others, it will mean the differences between being in business and being out of business.

The future of drones is clearly useful rather than simply fun cameras to take more pictures of things. The consumer element shouldn't be underestimated - the dedicated area at this year's Consumer Electronics Show is a testament to that but businesses have a unique opportunity with drone technology. From planning to mapping, repair to construction, anti-theft to identification and beyond, drones are already making a huge difference to the bottom line for many industries and we're just scratching the surface.

While it's easy for businesses to focus on delivery ("...delivery of freight will be revolutionised over the next 10 years through the removal of freight from inner cities and the resultant improvement in road safety" says Garbett), drones can offer businesses a lot more options but the key is to think bigger at the beginning . Instead of asking what should we do, businesses should ask what could we do. Garbett offers one final piece of (you could argue self-serving) advice for businesses, act now. While it may be tempting for corporates to wait to see what is next to emerge these businesses may miss early the savings to do more in the future thanks to the savings a good drone strategy can offer. Drone technology will improve and additional applications will certainly come along but moving now ensures your business has skin in the game and is truly focused on the areas where drones can make a difference now and in the future.


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Many industries and businesses are already reliant on drones for their everyday operations. The world of real estate is no different. The applications are many. Can drones, however, really be used in real estate? Can these be incorporated legally in business activities and if so, what steps do you have to undertake?

Drones in Real Estate Photography: How Does It Work?

Just a couple of months ago, both clients and agents were wondering – how could a drone be used to sell property? Aerial photography adds a cool touch to adding and selling property.

  • Drones move effortlessly above areas that will be difficult to access otherwise
  • Drones are perfect for creating HD video clips and giving the potential buyer a better idea about the property
  • A well-made aerial video can serve as a virtual tour – going from the entrance through the different rooms and even the backyard
  • Clients are looking for interactive and realistic presentations and because of this fact, aerial videos are a wonderful form of promotion
  • Depending on the needs of a real estate business, the investment in a drone can be small (starting at around 500 USD)
  • A drone can help you establish your reputation as an innovative real estate agent who’s willing to embrace new trends and use those to benefit clients

Real Estate Aerial Photography Tips

Great drone photos and videos cost more and need more time to be shot and edited than regular pictures. This is why a couple of important rules have to be followed for a quality outcome.

For best results, agents should hire professionals. Individuals that know how to fly drones and that have experience with aerial photography will be the ones that will produce the best outcome.

If you want to hire a drone operator,or use a drone yourself, keep the following additional tips in mind:

  • Shoot long, steady shots. A drone with a gimbal will be needed because it will keep the camera steady.
  • Follow the 10-second rule: whenever you are done shooting the video, don’t stop filming right away. Instead, count slowly to 10 and then hit the stop button.
  • Practice makes perfect. It’s best to create the same clip a couple of times. Footage can be lost. Technical problems may occur. Having a few clips to choose among will give you options and versatility.
  • Use the wind. Allowing the drone to move naturally instead of against the air current can improve the quality of the footage.
  • Have a preliminary plan. Drone flying time is still limited. The best models can fly for 10 to 20 minutes before they run out of battery. If you have an idea about what you’d like to photograph or film, you’ll make the best use of the available shooting time.

Whether you want aerial clips or pictures of property, a drone can be the perfect business tool for you. The trend is still relatively new and if you act fast, you can become one of the innovators in the real estate field.

If you are looking for a drone for real estate photography and video, I would recommend the DJI Phantom 4 Professional.

It is super stable, shoots crystal clear video and is not difficult for a beginner to use, while still having massive professional potential. The price is slightly higher than the average user drones, but it is not too large,it is easy to use, and has lots of advanced video and flight features.


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Skyward, a Verizon company and maker of drone operation management software and consulting services, announced results of a custom-built quantitative survey by Blue Research. The data revealed that one in 10 companies with revenue of $50 million and more use drones, and adoption is highest in construction and engineering (35%).

Blue Research sampled 1,736 individuals working for a random mix of U.S. companies with $50 million or more in revenue. Based on responses, the survey revealed that one in 10 companies with revenue of $50 million and over use drones, with the highest adoption in construction and engineering (35%). Moreover, 92% of companies that use drones realized a positive ROI on their drone investment in one year or less. The results also showed that drones are integral to business operations: half reported their company’s bottom line would suffer if their company did not use drones. Also revealed, 19% of the surveyed professionals indicated that their company currently uses or expects to use drones in the future.

“In the last two years since the FAA passed Part 107, we’ve seen drone use accelerate across small businesses and multinational firms, and watched our customers build drone programs into sophisticated operations that increase efficiency, worker safety, and access to data,” said Mariah Scott, President, Skyward. “As we develop our platform and services, I wanted more data about how medium and large businesses view drone technology and how they plan to put it to work in the future. The Blue Research data shows us who is adopting, at what pace, as well as the ROI drones are providing today. It also both validated, and challenged, our thinking about adoption hurdles and barriers to growth.”

Research Key Points:

  • 1,736 individuals working for U.S. companies with $50M or more in revenue were surveyed
  • Drone use among survey responders is at 10%; expected to increase to 20% in the future
  • Drone adoption is the highest in the construction and engineering industry (35%); government is next highest industry (24%)
  • About half of respondents reported their company’s bottom line would suffer if their company did not use drones
  • A wide majority realized a positive ROI on their drone investment in one year or less (92%)
  • Over four in five companies expect their drone flights to increase year over year
  • Three in four expect to increase spending on their drone program over the next 12 months
  • Drone operations management software appears to address important drone program challenges
  • "Staying up to date with laws and regulations” and “ensuring internal policies are followed” are common challenges

“In speaking one-on-one with executives we’ve heard that many large corporations are rapidly expanding their drone programs. This agrees with existing research in which the potential size of the market within specific industries has been assessed. However, this is the first study in which both adoption and the return on investment has been assessed with companies of this size, across industries. It is fascinating to see how quickly these organizations are obtaining a positive ROI. Although still a fairly nascent market, these data suggest the market is well poised to grow -- and with good reason for doing so,” said Paul Abel, Ph.D., managing partner, Blue Research.


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A DRONE may soon be as common, and as useful,  as a cattle dog on Australian properties. 

Ruralco, procurement manager, Leonie Furze said Ruralco, along with partner Precision Hawke, is carrying out a research project with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to investigate the future of drones. 

“We are looking at how drones can assist beef cattle producers,” she said. 

Ms Furze said the project involved surveying producers to crowdsource information on how drones could or should be used. 

“We are finding activities like checking water points, fence lines and stock are the obvious uses,” she said. 

Ms Furze said labour saving and workplace safety were potential benefits perceived by farmers of the technology. 

“If you don’t have to climb up a tank to check the water level, it is safer,” she said. 

Ms Furze said the project would provide information to help industry make choices on where to invest. 

“There is a lot of technology already for crops,” she said. 

“If there is flooding, there is a lot of plant health data that can be assessed.

“There are indexes such as NDVI which can be used.

 “We are almost at the stage where we can go straight to the variable rate. 

Ms Furze said Ruralco were pleased to use their relationship with farmers to add value to the industry. 

“We are doing this project with MLA to really try and direct technology to assist beef and sheep producers. 

“Australia is such a large, diverse country. 

“Using technology is the direction agriculture needs to go in.”


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Mining is a growing vertical for the drone industry.  Drones have a lot to offer mining: monitoring of remote operations, measuring stockpiles, and other geospatial applications have been adopted at scale in open mines.

But there’s an entirely different area of the mine that may get even more benefit from drone technology: inside.  Inspections around dangerous equipment, inside of tanks and other inaccessible spaces provide dramatic ROI for mining companies.  It can be done – but it requires a special type of drone.

Swiss-based company Flyability makes the Elios – a collision-tolerant drone for just that purpose. It’s a unique solution to the problem of flying in tight spaces: the drone in it’s cage can roll off of the sides of an obstacle while maintaining good video and data.  It makes an impossible task – inspecting the inside of a tank, a steel girder, or just a tight space with a drone – possible.

Elios is one of the only solutions that can perform these tasks, which may be part of the reason that the use drones in closed spaces is not as well known as using drones in open areas.  But that’s changing fast.

A recent case study performed with mining inspection experts WS Data 3D in Chile demonstrates just what mining companies have to gain with drone technology.  Mining companies save huge amounts immediately by using drones for inspections.  The equipment in mines – in this example, copper mines – is dangerous.  Ball mills, SAG mills, crushers, stockpile fillers and flotation cells – these environments are so hazardous for workers that operations need to be shut down in order for inspections to be performed, at a high cost to the mine.  Eric Romersa, CEO of WS Data 3D, says that a one hour inspection could cost a mine $100,000 to $150,000 in lost production costs – a cost eliminated by using a drone .

It’s not only a question of cost.  Drones can provide better quality inspections, and significant safety benefits for workers.   “Drones can collect a large amount of data fast, without putting people into these areas,” says Romersa.    Before drones, after the security protocol is performed, inspectors would dress in protective clothing and perform the inspection.  Subject to falling debris, personnel would have to complete the inspection as quickly as possible, using a camera on a tripod to take images of the area. In the case of the floating cells, workers used to have to erect scaffolding inside, and then it required 3 to 4 specially certified personnel to perform the inspection.  The environment is so hazardous that even the process of suiting up appropriately takes significant time.  “Security procedures are long and tedious,” says Romersa.

With this kind of dramatic benefit, this area of mining is a new and rapidly growing vertical.  While mining managers may need convincing to take on new technology, says Romersa, “When we show them what can be done with professional drones they understand,” says Romersa.


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Oceans Unmanned collaborated with drone companies DJI and DARTdrones to launch the freeFLY Drone Program, in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. According to Oceans Unmanned’s press release, their mission here is clear: to use this affordable and sophisticated aerial support to save the lives of whales who have become dangerously entangled.

“Cutting free a 45-foot, 40-ton free swimming animal is not an easy task; it can be dangerous,” said Ed Lyman, NOAA large whale entanglement response coordinator. “Drones may likely play an important role as they are a valuable tool toward reducing the risks involved in this type of effort.”

While Oceans Unmanned Chief Pilot Brian Taggart explained that “the freeFLY program will ensure all operators are well trained and equipped, operate at the highest level of safety and professionalism, and meet the requirements under the NOAA permit,” it seems as though this endeavor has already paid off, less than three months after the news of this initiative was first announced.

According to NBC News, Oceans Unmanned has shifted its focus from the basic modern aerial approach to the more minute, finer details of this new methodology. “The response program [at NOAA] has been dialed in, and they have methods that they’ve been using for years,” said Matt Pickett, Oceans Unmanned president. “Now, we’re trying to figure out the best way to utilize this technology.”

You might be wondering how exactly, besides providing a bird’s-eye view, drones could be helpful in disentangling these large, heavy animals. The answer is rooted in data, and having as much information as possible, before dangerously approaching the animal, and thereby reducing risk. Last year, for example, a NOAA rescuer was killed after being struck by a whale. The freeFLY program aims to provide live streams of the animals in need before rescuers approach them. Thereby, they can strategize accordingly: from which side to approach, what tools to bring along, and where are the affected areas that are priorities in cutting the whale free.

While drones are certainly helping scientists alleviate serious issues occurring in our oceans, UAVs won’t fix the world’s problems on their own. “The response effort and drones are a band-aid to the larger entanglement issue,” said drone pilot and marine biologist Alicia Amerson. “The solution is to not have any whales become entangled in gear in the first place.” Of course, while that’s an issue for the human race entirely to focus on, right now, drones are helping Oceans Unmanned do their job more effectively. That means fewer whales dying needlessly, with drones being the reason why.

Pickett said NOAA is “gearing up” to fully launch this initiative in the fall, when humpback whales commence their migration from Alaska to Hawaii. Should this period be successful for NOAA and its freeFLY program, it’ll be expanded to Alaska and America’s West Coast by 2019. 


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Around the time Leonardo Da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa, he was also writing his Codex on the Flight of Birds, a roughly 35,000-word exploration of the ways in which man might take to the air. His illustrations included diagrams positing pre-Newtonian theories of physics, a rudimentary plan for a flying machine and many, many sketches of birds in flight. The Mona Lisa, with her secretive smile, is a universe of intimacy captured on a relatively small panel of wood. But the landscape behind his captivating subject shows the world as you would see it from atop a tall hill—or from the vantage point you would get if you had hitched a ride on the back of a giant bird. Even as da Vinci was perfecting one way of seeing a face, he was dreaming of other ways of looking. No wonder he wanted to fly, perhaps less for the physical rush than for the thrill of seeing the world from above.

That’s the pleasure drones give us: they send eyes where our bodies can’t easily go unencumbered. A GoPro camera attached to a bird of prey shows us where the bird wants to go, which clues us in to what it’s thinking. Drones, as of now operable only by humans, tell us what humans find visually interesting. Drones are practical, but like any tool wielded by humans—pencil or paintbrush or maestro’s baton—there’s poetry in them too. Because of this, more and more, drones are finding their way into the art world.

“If you think about traditional art and Renaissance perspective, the ideal viewer was on the ground with a stable horizon line,” says Matthew Biro, a professor of modern and contemporary art at the University of Michigan. “And the drone takes us off that. It takes us out of our body in a certain way, kind of giving us an overlaid perspective.”

Some artists, like photographer Trevor Paglen—also a geographer and writer—have depicted drones directly as a means of questioning their role in government surveillance and warfare. In some of Paglen’s works, drones are seen as nothing more than a dark speck against a backdrop of becalming gray or sun-gold clouds, a way of denoting their possibly sinister near invisibility in our world. But as humans in general are seeing less malevolent possibilities in robotic aircraft, people who make art are finding inventive ways to use it.

Graffiti and fine artist Katsu was the first person credited with using a drone in the tagging of a billboard, as a way of disrupting the order of our everyday landscape. In New York City in 2015, he used a small, customized drone, outfitted with a paint sprayer, to mark a billboard image of the model Kendall Jenner with shaky yet adamant red stripes. The YouTube footage of the event—it took place under the cover of night—shows the drone flitting around Jenner’s larger-than-life visage like a pesky mosquito, taunting the image’s manicured perfection. The footage of the drone in action, more so than the marks that would be visible to passersby the next day, is the key to understanding how drones can shift human perspective. A drone has no mind of its own, but its movements—as guided by its operator—make us think about how we process images, where our eyes linger and what they skim over. It’s little wonder that Katsu’s drone never strays far from Jenner’s gaze. Instead, it meets her eye-to-eye in a mechanical confrontation that’s somewhat ghostly, like an out-of-body experience.

Katsu has since moved on to creating paintings with drones. He guides them before the canvas, and while he has a degree of control over their movement, he can’t maintain strict aim. The paint they fling hits the surface in unpredictable ways, resulting in splattery webs and clouds of varying density. There’s a hushed naiveté to the paintings. They’re spontaneous rather than accomplished—but accomplishment isn’t the aim. They’re more about discovery. “It’s kind of a dance between the flight computer and wind turbulence, and then my decisions,” Katsu explains. “So it creates an unexpected result.”

The otherworldly photographs of Reuben Wu represent another kind of exploration. Inspired by 19th century romantic painting, science fiction and notions of interplanetary exploration, Wu has made a series of landscape photographs lit by custom-modified drones. The results, featuring vivid, Maxfield Parrish–like tones of orange, mauve and teal, are hypnotic and transportive, surreal and naturalistic at once. These are places you could visit in real life, though they wouldn’t look anything like these photographs. Wu’s drone lighting renders the natural world in the visual language of dreams.

The casual observer’s understanding of what drones can do is mostly informed by the way they’re used to make movies, television shows and commercials. Since 2014, when the use of drones in filmmaking became legal (it is still highly regulated by the FAA), aerial footage captured by drones has become so common that we barely notice it. In the early days of drone use, filmmakers quickly realized how useful these nimble devices were for close-up action shots. Drones proved especially handy for filming chase scenes, like the opening motorcycle sequence of the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall. In Martin Scorsese’s 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street, drones were used to shoot a raucous party scene from above, allowing audiences to peer voyeuristically into characters’ lives. Cinematographers are finding increasingly creative ways to use drone technology: in the 2015 Jurassic World, a drone-mounted camera swoops low over a crowd of people who are being attacked by pterosaurs to mimic the movement of the flying reptiles. But if drones are becoming ubiquitous, they’re also still somewhat controversial, and some filmmakers are turning their cameras on the machines themselves. On an episode of the sci-fi show Black Mirror, for example, characters lose their privacy when a blackmailer films them with a drone. The audience sees the scene through both regular cameras and through the drone’s lens, underscoring the ways in which these devices make us vulnerable.

Although drones can be extremely cost effective for certain applications—in place of, or in combination with, dollies and jibs, for example—when it comes to aerial views, they haven’t fully vanquished the use of helicopters and cranes. Their limited battery life still makes some uses impractical, and they can be flown legally only at relatively low altitudes. But when they can be used, the savings are significant. Tony Carmean, a founding partner of drone cinematography company Aerial MOB, estimates that a helicopter can cost a filmmaker from $20,000 to $40,000 for a 10-hour day shoot. Aerial MOB can supply a drone for $4,500 to $13,000 a day, including crew, equipment and insurance.

The more drones are used, the more likely we are to take elaborate drone shots for granted. Yet these machines are still finding ways to wow us. Looking for a moment of zen at work? Join the more than 2 million people who have watched a particularly soothing YouTube video, the work of aerial photographer Tim Whittaker. In it a flock of New Zealand sheep, flanked by tiny moving dots that are actually running dogs, undulate in and out of formation—they’re disorderly, fat white molecules that eventually succumb to sanity and order as they squeeze through a fence opening and into the next field. Viewed from above, they’re a lyrical representation of chaos and resolution, a piece of woolly free jazz that ultimately lands on the most calming note.

The aerial perspective—of sheep or anything—is liberating precisely because it’s destabilizing, Biro says. “Drone vision allows us to see that there are multiple ways of seeing ourselves and seeing the rest of the world. We step out of ourselves to some extent. That’s its positive potential.”


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