In the year since NAB Show showcased unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — through educational sessions, expeditions and the exhibit floor’s Aerial Robotics and Drone Pavilion — the industry has literally taken flight, in terms of technology advances, applications and, of course, adoption.
The FAA recently predicted that sales of UAS for commercial purposes are expected to grow from 600,000 devices in 2016 to 2.7 million by 2020, with combined hobbyist and commercial UAS expected to rise from 2.5 million devices in 2016 to 7 million in 2020.
“We live in exciting times,” said Scott Strimple, a pilot, cinematographer and producer for CinemaVisuals, a company that specializes in low-altitude cinematography and photography.
“We’re witnessing the birth of the civilian small unmanned aircraft industry. The drone world is in its infancy and resembles in many ways the early days of the personal computer era. We are only now starting to see the wide-spread proliferation of this technology into many homes and businesses across the country.
“It was just a few years ago that the only people able to fly cameras were those of us heavily involved in the world of ‘geekdom,’” Strimple said. “One had to be an experienced radio control model enthusiast with years of flying experience to competently fly a camera package from underneath a model helicopter and be able to produce respectable image quality. Recent advances in battery and microprocessor technology are responsible for the relative ease of entry into the arena of aerial cinematography and photography. The attraction is the camera’s unrestricted freedom of movement, yielding just about any visual artist the ability to provide a fresh perspective, previously reserved for high-budgeted Hollywood projects. As artists, storytellers and filmmakers, we are always excited about new ways to communicate with our audience.”
Michael Chambliss, who is the International Cinematographers Guild’s technologist/business representative, echoes the importance of being able to provide new, exciting visuals.
“When cameras become smaller and more portable, it impacts the way we tell stories. The smaller film cameras of the 1960s gave rise to increased use of locations and ‘road films’ like ‘Easy Rider,’” he said. “They facilitated the development of the Steadicam … and now it’s drones. With drones, we can now capture spontaneous and physically independent handheld-type of work from a couple feet off the ground to 400 feet in the air with minimal environmental disturbance. It opens up the possibilities for entirely new kinds of shots that go through, under and over things with a ‘Harry Potter’- like freedom to the motion.”
Chambliss is just one of the many experts exploring the possibilities of UAS imaging at NAB Show; he will be moderating Wednesday’s Super Session “Drones: Opening New Vistas to Content.”
Gathering aerial cinematographers and producers for a discussion on using drones to deliver dynamic content, the session will examine FAA guidelines and best practices for drones using them safely, legally and reliably, as well as what live event, news, feature film and TV producers should consider when planning and executing drone shots.
“We’ve never had an imaging technology so disruptive,” Chambliss said, “involving federal regulators, public safety officials and legislators on the state and local levels — let alone producers and directors trying to understand how to work with it. While the technology jumps forward at a breathtaking pace, our regulators and enforcers are challenged to develop a uniform operational framework for employing the technology. In many ways it’s the democratization of the public airspace, and that’s a very big change.”
These issues are also in focus at the Aerial Robotics and Drone Pavilion in the Central Hall, where a full schedule of panels and presentations, co-produced by Drone Media Group, are held alongside an enclosed flying cage. The pavilion is sponsored by Multicopter Warehouse, FirstCom and Stampede.
With more than 30 exhibitors, the Aerial Robotics and Drone Pavilion will showcase a range of technologies, including camera systems, software, filters, stabilization equipment, wireless 4K and HD video links, camera support, batteries and power supplies, cables and cases.
Considering the development of these technologies, Ram Ofir, president and CEO of Amimon, one of the pavilion exhibitors, said, “The global UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] and drone market continues to change dramatically as a result of two core drivers: new technologies that deliver high-performance drone/UAV capabilities at a wide range of price points; and the increased demand from entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, consumers and professional users. [There is great] potential for UAV/ drones to help professionals generate new sources of revenue in myriad vertical markets, such as the broadcast and commercial production arenas, and as a new creative and cost-efficient platform for video capture and production. The possibilities are almost limitless and open up a whole new world of creative opportunities,” he said.
Jeff Foster, who is co-managing the event, explained that educational sessions in the Aerial Robotics and Drone Pavilion, including “Drones in Live Broadcast,” “Drone Camera Comparisons” and “Drones on the Big Screen,” “will feature continually scheduled programming and demos every day of the show.”
Foster, who is editorial director and co-founder of the Drone Coalition (www. dronecoalition.net) and the educational program partner for Drone Media Group, said he has “been watching the various industries literally take off around this technology.”
He, too, acknowledges that while the industries are still developing, he sees “this technology becoming more of a standard production tool on all levels in the coming one to two years, especially once all the government [regulatory issues] are managed and the technology makes these crafts safer to fly and produce even better results.”
Foster, one of the managers of the P|PW Aerial Videography field workshops that took place earlier in the show, will moderate Wednesday’s “Innovations in Aerial Videography” session, which features some of the nation’s premier low-altitude aerial cinematography experts, including Stephen Oh, Mike Fortin, Chris Knight, Ryan McMaster and Scott Strimple. Foster plans to address the creative and technical issues related to production for network television, commercial cinematography, corporate video, nature and landscape videos and surveying/mapping. These experts, Fosters explained, “will be sharing some of their work and will be discussing where they see the industry is currently and where it’s headed, not just in the U.S. but globally.”