Sky’s the limit for drones’ potential
Drones are carving out an increasingly wide variety of uses in the business world, from real estate and entertainment to architectural modelling and surveying, and even crime scene investigation.
Bermuda Aerial Media was one of the first businesses on the Island to recognise the commercial potential of the technology, and it is now providing expertise and services to an expanding list of clients.
“The number one use is aerial photography and video for real estate companies,” said Conner Burns, who founded the company with EJ Burrows. Drones can provide impressive, high-quality photographs and video of properties from perspectives not otherwise available, and they are “one hundred times cheaper than hiring a helicopter”.
Filming outdoor concerts, is another commercial use for which drones have been deployed, while global organisations, including Apple and National Geographic, have used Bermuda Aerial Media's services to shoot promotional and programme footage.
Landscape can be mapped in three dimensions by a drone, and be used as a tool for architects and surveyors, or even to help police with crime scene investigations.
Further uses include search and rescue, as was demonstrated when Bermuda Aerial Media used a drone to assist in the search for missing visitor Bill Grange last year, and surveillance work above the Sargasso Sea.
“The demand is growing. I would say it has doubled in the past year for media, including real estate use and entertainment,” said Mr Burns.
His company has a core of five part-time personnel. Mr Burns noted that drone technology is evolving very quickly, and this will likely lead to more commercial possibilities in the future. However, he said that because of Bermuda's limited market there is still a question about how much volume of business will be generated on the Island.
Filmmaker Andrew Stevenson believes drones and unmanned aircraft present a huge scope of possibilities for aerial photography and other usages.
He has captured breathtaking photographs of sunrises over the Island using an Inspire drone from DJI, and has demonstrated the potential of the technology to film water sports, including sailing events, with a super high definition 4K video camera.
His speedy drone was able to keep pace with the Oracle USA America's Cup catamaran when he was permitted to film it during a training session.
Mr Stevenson said: “You have this perspective where you are almost sitting on the shoulders of the sailors.
“The potential for the use of the drones is huge. They are an incredible tool for capturing images, and at a lower altitude than would be possible with a helicopter.”
He has filmed J105s racing in the Great Sound. “You get a real perspective of a sailing race. From the air you are aware of this added dimension,” he said.
Mr Stevenson stated he only films organised activities if he is asked to do so, or if he has sought and received permission beforehand.
Regarding commercial uses for drones, Mr Stevenson said he has done architectural-related work, such as photographing access routes to beaches along the south shore.
He sees a raft of other commercial uses ranging from engineering to tourism.
“The scope is unlimited. At the moment I'm interested in getting images of Bermuda and gaining experience in how to capture those images,” he said.
Mr Stevenson and Bermuda Aerial Media are among a handful of users licensed by the Bermuda Department of Civil Aviation to fly drones for commercial purposes in Bermuda.
The Island was one of the first places in the world to issues guidelines and regulations regarding drone usage.
Peter Adhemar, head of operations at the Department of Civil Aviation, said he recognised early on the potential of the technologies and the challenges it would bring, particularly to a small, densely populated jurisdiction.
“There are some fantastic commercial uses for them, such as inspecting the top of a plane that has landed at the airport, or photographing power lines, oil pipes, fisheries regulation and police work, but they have to be controlled,” he said.
“The downside is that they could hit an aircraft or they could crash.”
There are also privacy rules and regulations. To gain a licence from the authority, a low-level pilot's medical and exam is required. Operators also need to have a stated minimum level of third-party insurance.
“We want people to be insured, competent and have knowledge of the procedures,” said Mr Adhemar.
While there are many hobbyists on the Island using drones for personal use, there are only five operators approved to carry out commercial aerial work with the unmanned aircraft.
Mr Adhemar said: “Those operators are good, and we would like to see them form an association to set rules.”
Filmmaker Andrew Stevenson will present a lecture on drone technology and how it will change people’s perspectives on the world, at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute tomorrow.
The lecture, entitled Below the Waves and Above the Clouds, will include never before seen aerial photographs and videos of Bermuda. The Department of Civil Aviation’s Peter Adhemar will also be present to answer questions about drone technology and regulations.
The lecture starts at 7.30pm. Tickets cost $25, or $20 for members, and are available from the BUEI gift shop, or by calling 294-0204.