They have been in the news every day for past week and there is no suggestion the interest in them is going to stop. ‘Drones’ are unmanned aircraft controlled from the ground, with the capability to travel great distances for prolonged periods of time.
The current debate about whether they should or should not be allowed is fairly contentious. Even just yesterday the BBC posted the latest in a series of articles highlighting their current uses and the legal restrictions. It tends to stem from the fact the vast majority are only operational from the ground because they have cameras attached to them. On the one hand, is it any different to whipping out your camera in a public place (and for the sake of clarity, let’s say on top of a building) and pointing it down to the street below to snap a picture or video?
But the other side questions both the legalities of it and the issues surrounding privacy. Last week a BBC article citing the Civil Aviation Authority’s investigation into drones over English football stadiums highlighted the current rules – that no drone should be flown within 150m of a built-up area or large gathering of people. Concern over the weight of remotely piloted aircrafts was the reason given. But that did not stop another enthusiast flying a drone over the Etihad Stadium in Manchester last Saturday.
Unfortunately for those of us working in photography, the privacy issue is the main stumbling block. The technology is there and, when flown by trained professionals, is fairly safe. But earlier this week the University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report called for “urgent” measures to safeguard the privacy of the public in Britain from flights.
Perhaps all the more frustrating when you consider the potential commercial uses. Remember when Amazon announced it would look into delivering packages by air, utilising drones? Well just earlier this week FedEx announced they’re researching the possibility, too. Or if you are a Star Wars fan, racing drones is probably the thing to get excited about.
But the possibility that is most exciting is what is on-board as the drones hover away into the distance – cameras. In our last blog we pointed out that technology getting smaller is still exciting, which should increase the amount of products coming to market that could be attached to drones.
Forget any potentially malicious use for the meantime and consider the benefits this could have within business practice. Popularity of documenting progress to help manage a construction site is ever growing. Everything from flashy edits to time-lapse captures throughout a project are being utilised by the world’s major construction and demolition firms for both site monitoring and marketing purposes.
Unmanned flight technology is the latest innovation that could both add to and improve the way in which sites are documented throughout their lifespan. A great example of this is already underway in the USA, where Richard Evans, an enthusiast, now flies drones to monitor construction sites for his company. Seemingly a novel idea, but actually extremely sensible, using drones for monitoring is very practical.
Construction site management is a huge task – it involves the organisation of labour, plant and the construction itself, ensuring it is delivered on time and kept to a high standard. Time-lapse photography is a great way to monitor this, because the regular interval captures, in Ultra HD, can be viewed remotely and in real time. This is being realised by major construction firms more and more as an effective tool, but could there be further help out there?
The true potential of drones is to add another level on top. Imagine being able to inspect structures before demolition, by flying a camera around them from a distance and reaching places not possible before. Then use them for surveying before a construction project begins, checking the groundwork and surrounding areas for safety and piece of mind.
Cameras at fixed points give a great time-lapse edit and for a broad view of site, but if you want to check safety procedures are being undertaken, then flying a drone is a good, short-term solution. And at the build’s competition, footage can be captured to show it from all sorts of angles, which would sit alongside time-lapse imagery.
However, the current negative perception surrounding drones, along with the legal constraints, is going to prove a real stumbling block. Despite the excitement of many businesses looking to utilise such technological advancements, their helpful uses might have to be put on hold for a little while longer.