More people are traveling with their drones, small camera-equipped flying machines, to capture distinctive videos and photos, experts and users say. Falling prices of the equipment could put the gadget on wish lists for the holiday season.
Matt Alexander, who lives in Orlando, has taken his drone to Key West, Chicago, Colorado and on a three-month adventure overseas.
“I took it everywhere — all over Europe, 18 different countries, and flew it everywhere I could,” he said. “In all honestly, the rules are still up in the air, and there is no protocol.”
Regulations for drones, also known as UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles, are evolving. In general, there are restrictions around airports, federal buildings and heavily populated events. Bans have been enacted above Fleet Week festivities in San Francisco, the Pope’s visit to the East Coast and next year’s Super Bowl. Federal regulators said Monday that they will require recreational drone users to register their aircraft with the government.
Alexander, who has flown his drone for two years, said he learned to fly in parks and other open spaces. Safety is a high priority.
“All it takes is one irresponsible move, and then you’re just like every other idiot with a drone who thinks he can fly,” said Alexander, 29.
The public appears interested in what he’s doing, normally drawing about 15 people during a 30-minute flight, he said.
“Everyone would clap, and people would ask questions,” he said.
Mike Rausch, one of the owners of Colonial Photo & Hobby in Orlando, expects interest to grow.
The price point for a drone has fallen beneath the psychological $1,000 barrier, Rausch said.
“Drones are selling like mad because it’s an affordable item,” he said.
Although Rausch’s store sells drones for as low as $30, pricier models include selling points such as GPS and return-to-base ability.
“That’s huge when you’re flying something,” Rausch said.
Drone sales are expected to reach $105 million for 2015, according to a report from the Consumer Electronics Association.
Alexander, who has spent about $3,000 on his drone and related equipment, can make his machine hover next to him or go as high as 400 feet, the legal limit. He is parlaying his interest into a business that records events and locations via drone.
Matt Coakley and his wife, Holly, spent the summer driving in an RV and making drone-based videos. Reactions have been mostly positive although “very, very occasionally, I have somebody who is annoyed that I’m out there flying a drone around,” he said.
He’s trying to populate his YouTube page with more travelog-style videos.
“People have contacted me about shooting videos of their city or make more YouTube videos,” said Coakley of Laurel, Md. “I’m still in the process of growing my YouTube channel, though, so at this point it’s a little bit speculative.”
Coakley and family will be visiting Walt Disney World later this year, but he’s not planning to take any bird’s-eye view footage. Drones cannot be flown over Disney property without company permission. The same goes for Universal Orlando and other tourism attractions.
He has encountered other droners at widespread locations from Coit Tower in San Francisco to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. His first machine met a watery end in New York state.
“I took off with the drone, and it just kind of dove forward. I tried to bring it back to me and it just crashed into a river,” Coakley said.
Now he owns two drones, one as backup.
A new type of drone, expected to debut next year, could draw even more fans. Users will toss the Lily Camera into the air, and it will trail behind the operator.
“It hovers right behind you and basically follows you using this wristband that you get,” Alexander said. “It’s basically a selfie drone.”
It’s in pre-sales for $799 for delivery in August 2016.
“Everybody has heard about it, but nobody has seen one,” said Rausch, who said the Lily comes with limitations. It must be recharged after 20 minutes, and it lacks detect-and-avoid technology.
“It doesn’t know where it’s going, so it goes where you go,” he said. “So if you go between two items, it will probably hit it — like a tree or a limb or a bush. … I think it’s a great idea that’s right now in the development stage.”