National Drone Show: Producer’s Panel Looks at the Basics

Standing room only at the "Rise of the Drones" panel
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Rise of the Drones: Christopher Vo, Nils Granholm, Tony Mallamas, Eric Jameson and moderator Shane Yeager at podium

WASHINGTON –The use of drone technology for aerial cinematography and other markets was featured in Wednesday’s GV Expo/National Drone Show session “Rise of the Drones: A Producer’s Panel for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” which was presented by the Television, Internet and Video Association of DC (TIVA-DC) to a standing-room only audience. Moderator Shane Yeager, visionary at the video, animation and photography services company D.C. Visionaries, began the discussion by asking panelists to share a general overview of the drone market.

“What’s interesting to me is that we’re having a drone show in an area where we can’t fly,” said Tony Mallamas, president of RotorVerse, to laughter from the audience. The Federal Aviation Administration has declared Washington, D.C. and surrounding communities a no drone zone. According to the FAA website, the airspace around Washington, D.C. is more restricted than in any other part of the country.

Eric Jameson, category manager at Stampede, a sponsor of the National Drone Show, said that from his perspective there are three classes of drones available, beginning with the hobby enthusiast level with equipment running up to $2,000. There’s a transition in equipment in the $2,000 to $5,000 range appropriate for the prosumer. Equipment from the $5,000 range up to approximately $30,000 he considers commercial grade. He stressed that producing a commercial-grade video will not be accomplished with a $1,200 drone.

Mallamas said there’s a “gap right now between the needs and the providers,” with respect to the cameras used on drones. “There’s no sense in going with a camera that was designed to have a human behind it,” he said.

Christopher Vo, Ph.D., drone and robotics program manager for AES Corp. and president of the D.C. Area Drone User Group, said the industry “is starting to see cameras such as one from Blackmagic Design, that you can actually operate the zoom and other features from the remote control.”

“DGI [drones] are nice because they come with cameras specifically designed for the aircraft, but not one camera is going to fit [all the types of projects] we have to do,” said Nils Granholm, co-founder, CAVUS Media LLC. “You need the right camera for the right job.”

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As with any business endeavor, it’s not just about buying a drone and the cameras to go with it. Companies have to have insurance, ground systems, registration for the UAV, and, for legal compliance, someone with an FAA-issued certificate to fly the drone. “Realistically... [once] you’ve got the drone, you’ve got the training, now you’ve got the license and you’ve got the regulatory issues all solved, then how are you going to handle the data?” Granholm said. “With all of those elements you’re really into about $75,000 to $100,000.” For some companies it might make more sense to contract with another company for the necessary services.

Events in the news reinforce the need for legal compliance. There have been three incidents around the White House this year with drones being flown within the no drone zone. Criminal citations were issued with the owners facing possible federal charges. On Thanksgiving, a man was issued a summons after he was accused of flying a drone over the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

With compliance and safety in mind, the panel agreed that education is imperative for those interested in entering the aerial cinematography field. “Education becomes such an important element in all of this: to understand what you can do, what you can’t do legally, what your system’s capable of, and what your options are for the system that you have,” Jameson said.

There are a number training outlets, including Unmanned Vehicle University and other college education programs, as well as user groups that include hobbyists, prosumers and commercial participants. Information is also available on the FAA website at www.faa.gov.

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