February 06, 2013

Drones Could Make Their Hollywood Debut


The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is pushing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow the use of "drones” - 4 1/2-foot-wide aircrafts built that can fly to specified GPS coordinates and altitudes without a pilot.

"It's just like flying without all the trouble of having to be up in the air," Drone Software Engineer Mark Harrison said in a statement.

Thousands of hobbyists take part in what has become a global do-it-yourself drone subculture, which is thriving as the FAA seeks to make the skies friendlier to the aircraft. However, the use of drones by law enforcement and government agencies has privacy advocates on edge.

At the same time, some DIY drone flyers believe the ease of sending cheap pilotless planes airborne gives citizens a tool for keeping public servants on the ground honest.

As of late, drones have become the signature weapon of U.S. wars in the 21st century as interest in non-military uses of drones from policing to farming is rising. Government agencies need FAA permission on a case-by-case basis to fly drones domestically, but lawmakers have instructed the agency to allow civilian use of drones in U.S. airspace by September 2015.

Over the past few years, drone prices have been driven down even by the surge in popularity of smartphones. The chips smartphones use to determine whether they're being held vertically or horizontally or to locate themselves on a map are the same ones drones use to keep themselves flying straight, level and in the right direction.


Image via Shutterstock

In the movie business, these drones are more likely the size of model planes than anything like what the U.S. government is using. Studios see the airborne vehicles as a way to get better long shots with fewer safety risks, all at lower cost.

Rental of a real helicopter runs about $1,700 an hour with a pilot another $1,900 a day, while a drone that can be used for camera work will retail for from $119 to $249.

"What we’re looking for is line-of-sight things that can be utilized in innovative ways," MPAA spokesman Howard Gantman said in a statement.  "These could be used much more safely than going up a tree and much more cheaply than renting a helicopter.”

Currently, drone use is legal in some foreign countries, but not in the U.S. In fact, some of the opening scenes in "Skyfall" were shot in Turkey using a helicopter drone system, while France has approved use of the drones, and one was used last year for scenes in "The Smurfs 2."

According to the FAA, the agency must in the next 18 months develop rules for commercial use of what it calls “unmanned aircraft systems" of 55 pounds or less, intended to resolve a quirk in current FAA rules: Recreational use of model planes, including those carrying cameras are allowed, but commercial use is banned.

Model airplanes can only be flown below 400 feet above ground level and away from airports, but not by individuals or companies flying them for business purposes. This means, for instance, that student films can use drone camera shots, but not commercial films as commercial use is limited to experimental research and flight trainings.

While the MPAA acknowledges its interest and the MPAA's lobbying form filed with the U.S. Senate says the organization is pushing on the issue, lobbying has been informal so far, and the MPAA has not had written communications with the FAA.

But, it has been reported that the agency will seek written comments from potential users after it announces a formal ruling.

It is expected that the TV and movie industry will be small players in drones use, but they are not the only ones looking at the technology. Companies that originally developed smaller drones for the military and wanting to now expand the drones use for civilian purposes have been pushing hardest for the FAA to act.

"Many industries are realizing how unmanned aircraft could help their bottom lines," said Melanie Hinton, senior communications manager for the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a group pushing robotic devices. "The potential for unmanned aircraft to help save time, save money and even save lives is virtually limitless.”




Edited by Braden Becker



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