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February 11, 2013

by TJ Diaz (from xFly Films), planet5D

We welcome TJ Diaz (from xFly Films) as a guest blogger – he’s going to write a series on using multicopters for Aerial Photography – including some discussion on the dos and don’ts in future articles. In the USA, there’s been a lot of discussion of the risks and there will be some new rules coming as to who, when, where you can fly. So keep your eyes peeled on planet5D for more! Here’s how TJ proposed the series…

The Aerial world is rapidly growing and we have tested many cam’s from dslr’s all the way to the Epic. This type of production is on the tipping point of becoming a must have in most productions. The only hold back at this point is the FAA and Commercial use of these aircraft in national airspace.

I’m trying proactively stay ahead of the rules and regs curve, and have completed executive UAV certifications with the Unmanned Vehicle University. With only a few more hoops to jump through I am in position very well to legitimately fly commercially in the US.

So many topics to cover from the technology, to the camera’s, and of course tracking rules and regs; the hot topic

TJ’s 2012 ‘tribute’ video:

Rise of the Multicopter

Over the past decade, news headlines from around the world have reported drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Unmanned aerial vehicles are controlled remotely by pilots on the ground, thus avoiding the risk to their lives. Many drones can remain airborne for 24 hours or more, operating beyond the limits of human endurance. For militaries with access to the necessary resources, drones have become a valuable tool and almost commonplace.

Too expensive for commercial or individual use, the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, a staple of the United States military, is rumored to cost $37 million. While defense contractors were making drones for the U.S. military, hobbyists were bolting iPhones onto their RC helicopters. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) industry is fairly new, with a focus on consumer products. This has been brought about by the demand for low-cost, flying robots that navigate, communicate and sense.

TJ Diaz - Aerial Photography with XFlySystems

TJ Diaz – Aerial Photography with XFlySystems

One of the most expensive parts of a drone is the hardware for remote flight control. However, the demand for smartphones and their technology has dramatically decreased the cost of miniaturized computers. It is now possible for a business or individual to purchase a flight-capable mini-computer for less than $50. Today, a remote controlled flight hobbyist can get started for around $700 and a Go Pro camera. DJI Phantom RTF

DJI Phantom RTF

DJI Phantom RTF

Commercial drones, unlike consumer drones, are still illegal in The United States. The American Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t issued rules yet for how commercial drones will fit into the already busy skies safely, nor has it addressed the privacy concerns that come with aerial cameras. The FAA is expected to authorize commercial use of UAV’s in 2015. This will undoubtedly lead to an explosion in demand for robotic aircraft.

Already, in Germany, drones are used to inspect the blades of wind turbines, farmers use them to survey their crops and oil companies use them to monitor pipelines. Filmmakers will put them to use as will journalists, civil engineers, realtors and artists. The U.S. Army is testing unmanned freight carrying drones.

Multicopters are a type of drone with at least four independent props. Each prop and its motor are located at the corner of the aircraft. These props are balanced for stability and ease of use. In the past, flying an aircraft required a thorough understanding of flight controls and piloting skills. With a multicopter, a small on-board computer handles the difficult aspects of flying. One of the most challenging aspects of flying a traditional remote control helicopter is the wind. To hover an aircraft in the same location, an RC pilot must make continual flight adjustments. However, with a multicopter, complex flight adjustments are not necessary. Through the use of GPS receivers, barometric sensors and flight control systems, a multicopter can hover in the same area of the sky indefinitely. This makes it easy to take photographs and video. Businesses and individuals can now benefit in many ways using multicopters.

A multicopter before takeoff

A multicopter before takeoff

In 2008, a multicopter pilot remotely flew his aircraft next to a large meat processing facility in North Dakota. From an altitude of several hundred feet, the pilot took photos of the surrounding area. The photos revealed a bright red river flowing from the meat processing facility. The river contained biological waste, a violation of EPA regulations. The meat processing facility was forced to discontinue its harmful practices.

Multicopters are a valuable tool for real estate agents. With a multicopter, it’s easy to take aerial photos of a home or commercial property. With a DLSR camera, a multicopter can take high-resolution, color-accurate photos from a unique overhead vantage point, several hundred feet over the subject. Using a gyroscopic gimbal stabilizer, a multicopter can produce a high-quality platform for digital photographers and videographers who want unique and stylish photos for weddings, communal events and much more. Multicopters can be used for nature and wildlife photography, and other photographic opportunities that are not available through traditional techniques.

A multicopter with a Canon HDSLR

A multicopter with a Canon HDSLR

While many multicopters have limited payload capacity, some newer models are designed to haul heavier loads. Imagine that a construction firm needs to set up a rope transport between two large buildings, too far apart to throw a rope. With a multicopter, a rope can be easily transported from one building to another. Multicopters can also be used by environmental groups to take air, water and ground samples.

While multicopters are still in their infancy, they are already being used for livestock monitoring, wildfire mapping, home security and oil, gas and mineral exploration. In Australia firm has developed a system that can fly into a hurricane and communicate data directly to the National Hurricane Center in Florida. While technology is growing, the potential uses for multicopters are limitless. The only limitations of multicopters are those of human ingenuity and imagination.

Next up:
How to choose the right Multicopter for your Aerial Photography

TJ Diaz is the Founder and CEO at XFLY SYSTEMS. He has thousands of flights under his belt and countless hours of designing, building and testing Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) for Aerial Photography and Videography. TJ holds executive sUAS certifications from Unmanned Vehicle University and XFLY SYSTEMS is a corporate member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI); the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. XFLY SYSTEMS is based out of Denver, Colorado.

(cover photo credit: snap from TJ)

Using Drones Without FAA Approval for Photos or Video is Illegal

In the last 12 months I have seen a number of new unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as drones) entering the market with the ability to capture video or photos. It has been something that I have been quite interested in and have intently researched buying one. However my latest findings have convinced me to wait a few more years before I make a purchase as now I realize they are illegal and the FAA can issue large fines and even shut you down if you are caught operating one for your business. Read on to learn more.

One of the most popular uses for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) has been for real estate photography. They use the UAV’s as an inexpensive alternative to chartering a helicopter to photograph high profile buildings and properties. However, according to the Photography for Real Estate website using these UAV’s is actually illegal and can cost you a fine and even risk being shut down. These rules will change in a few years as Congress did sign a bill into law mandating opening air space to unmanned drones on September 30, 2015. If you are thinking about incorporating UAV’s into your business it might do you well to wait a few more years. I have a feeling by then you will see a lot of manufacturers entering the market offering UAV’s thereby driving down the price substantially. Also by waiting you can avoid being shut down like California photographer Daniel Gárate experienced.

In order to operate the drones, outside of doing it as solo a hobbyist, one needs to have a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA. This site lists everyone who has one of these COA’s and is able to operate a drone for commercial or industrial use legally.

To find out more about the use of UAV’s in your work check out the article posted on the Photography for Real Estate website.


NOTE:  see my friends, Nils and Jay,  at Cavus Media for some great work in the Washington DC area and across the USA!  And tell them Jeff sent you–