My after school ‘Techsperts’ club has been learning about drones.
It’s inescapable that we are in the early stages of living with drones in our everyday lives. From packages being delivered from Amazon, modern warfare, and recreational use, the public has adapted to that familiar ‘bee-hive’ like buzz at sporting events, beaches, and popular tourist sites. The wide shots that they provide at 4K are exceptional and I’ve used them for marketing footage at my school for a variety of projects. It’s inevitable that we’ll look up the skies in the coming years and see a denser and denser swarm of autonomous bots delivering and returning items, and even monitoring crops as an extension of our workflow to enhance productivity on the ground.
Others don’t share that sentiment. More and more, drones are being denied flight time at monuments, airports (for obvious interference) and even have been shot out of the sky or billy-clubbed to death by law enforcement upon landing. There are concerns that they could be misused for ‘spying’ overhead in people’s backyards as they sunbathe or people who are unsuspectedly filmed outside of their window while getting out of the shower. I’ve read and seen videos of film crews using them to document conditions at inhumane livestock ranches, and Paul Scharre’s book ‘Army of None‘ highlights the terrifying uses of drone armies to modernize warfare with lethal packages and AI to coordinate autonomous robots on the battlefield.
6 Tips for Successful Drone Operation and Filming
1.) Don’t neglect the orientation. DJI now has new users go through a multiple choice test in initialization involving a formative assessment to acquaint them with FAA guidelines, proximity to public areas and maximum heights.
2.) Familiarize yourself with country laws. Some countries have banned personal drones. Some game parks in Africa don’t allow you to fly in parks without a permit (which could be exploited by poachers) but youtube’s creator studio has a lot of creative commons 4K footage in national parks.
3.) Start conservative and get more daring. There are user settings which can be customized based on experience and user needs. Typically, it’s best to start with more conservative settings which result in slower maximum speed and a lower flight ceiling. Use this for your first 20+ hours to get experience and then raise your flight ceiling.
4.) Don’t fly blind. Once a friend and I were doing some guerrilla drone filming in an area that was off limits and we didn’t have eyes on the machine. While doing a beautiful side pan, he flew right into a skyscraper.
5.) Get creative and practice. Pull aways, tracking shots, sweeps, fly overs all can give a unique perspective. In the case of the the Mongolia video opening above, I practiced about 4-5 times before the actual shot to get the feeling of the fine motor skills needed for the tracking than pull away wide angle.
6.) Avoid Buildings. This might go without saying, but the more you shoot in urban environments, you’ll start getting closer and closer to buildings. A sudden gust of wind may sweep the drone into a wall. Once, I had a metal column suck the electromagnets of the motors into it from 10 feet away.
7.) Make sure to enable the warranty. Over a long enough timeline, you’ll probably have a crash. The machines are pretty tough, and you might find that you have to merely replace a rotor. A colleague of mine has had 3 crashes and his warranty has ensured quick repair every time.
If Your Drone Flying is Denied
I’m in Singapore right now working on a video while on spring break, and despite research telling me that drone operation here was legal, I got the kibosh on my flying time shot down by local law enforcement and was told I needed a permit that was difficult to secure given my narrow window of time here. An easy work around is to search for drone footage on youtube and filter for ‘creative commons’ which is free for the public to download and use. I found a user ‘Timberland Pham’ and his site “Phamtastic Productions” had some good footage so I sent him a letter asking for permission and he was more than happy to oblige.
What Will the Future Hold for Drones in Education?
One of the members of my PLN, David Navis, shared that he started a drone club at his school in Guangzhou that has swelled to 50 members that has started racing competitions, and even offered some of his students internships with companies that are developing this technology. Some of his students have been sponsored by companies specialized in competitive racing. One student even developed this racing frame which is being sold (How’s that for entrepreneurism?) and even toured the company making the Ehang 184. At the rate private international schools are innovating with tools such as Raspberry Pis, 3D printers, and robotics, I think we’ll see ‘Drone Maintenance and Repair‘ as a course listing 10 years from now.