If it seems like we've been hearing a lot about drones lately, that's only because drone stories are everywhere.
- Drones are fighting wars for us overseas.
- Drones were apparently involved in the hunt for the cop killer Christopher Dorner.
- The FAA just released a list of all the new drone sites in the country.
But, how would you feel if your neighbor had a drone that was capable of flying over your house and streaming live video back to the owner or over the internet? Thousands of people on Long Island might be asking themselves that question when they look up in the sky and see this hovering overhead.
That is a photo of DJI Innovations model S800 drone in action over an area of Long Island. The S800 is just one of the countless, privately owned and operated drones being used by hobbyists all over the country. For the past six months, satellite radio host Anthony Cumia (of the Opie & Anthony Show) has been working on mastering his skills with his S800. Anthony has equipped his drone with some fairly sophisticated technology, including two cameras, and a gimbal rig that stabilizes the high-definition video shot by the onboard Panasonic Lumix camera.
Mr. Cumia's latest video from the modified S800 following snowstorm Nemo, showed the snowy punch that was delivered to Long Island just last weekend:
After seeing the above video, TheBlaze contacted Mr. Cumia to learn more about his drone and the skills needed to operate this technology.
The Blaze: Your hovering drone looks to be a fairly expensive set up. What’s the estimated cost of the rig you have now?
Cumia: Most people can pick up a basic drone for a few hundred bucks. The more bells and whistles you want. The more you're gonna pay. I have a LOT of bells and whistles. It's upwards of 5 grand. Gets a bit nerve wracking sending all that up on a few spinning propellers.
TheBlaze: Five Grand? What kind of added equipment takes you from the few hundred dollar zone to the five thousand dollar neighborhood?
Cumia: I have 2 cams on it. One for FPV flying and one for recording video. The GoPro is a fixed cam facing forward with a video downlink that I receive on the ground. I can remotely fly the drone just by watching the monitor. The video cam is a Lumix GH2. It takes full HD video. It's mounted to the drone with a stabilizing gimbal that is tied into the auto pilot. It compensates for any shake or motion of the drone for rock steady video.
Image: Anthony Cumia
In September, Cumia demonstrated the gimbal system used to steady the camera and keep the camera focused on the visual target as the drone rotates and moves:
(Continuing our interview)
TheBlaze: You mentioned that you can stream video from the drone, what about navigating it? Are you manually directing the drone or is it controlled by using a computer program?
Cumia: Both can be done. (fly manually or via computer program) It can fly completely autonomously. It will follow waypoints I punch into a navigation program. It uses accelerometers, altimeters and GPS to calculate where it is and where it's going. Speed, altitude, direction, location can all be programmed in ahead of time. In an emergency, flip one switch and it returns and lands itself exactly where it took off from. It can also be flown manually by transmitter/ receiver controls.
TheBlaze: How high can yours fly?
Cumia: Depending on the trans/receiver you have, they can really get up there. I had an "incident" one day and it inadvertently went up to about 4000ft.
TheBlaze: What about distance? How far away can it safely travel?
Cumia: Again, depending on the trans/receiver you can travel 2 to 5 Km away.
TheBlaze: And the question everyone wants to know… Is it legal?
Cumia: This tech is so new to the civilian population, I don't think they've really made any legislation against it aside from privacy laws already on the books. Peeking in windows is a no no. Although sunning in the yard? I think that's fair game!
To better understand the technology at work here, take a look at a video Anthony's drone shot last November. It shows the actual rigging used on the drone:
The drone is also capable of flying at night. This video was from October 5, 2012:
With the sophistication of drone technology moving at a rapid pace, and prices coming down just as fast, it's likely that more drones will be filling the skies and pushing the limits of privacy. While the drones like the one seen here is perfectly legal, we anticipate that federal, state and local authorities to consider restrictions and possibly even registering and licensing drones before allowing them to freely roam high above your town.