The sinister-sounding drone is one of the more unloved technological developments, mostly due to scaremongering suggesting we’re all being spied on from the skies. But some enterprising consumers are finding new and innovative ways to make use of drones, including these five unusual tasks for the flying cameras.
1. Gig photography
Enrique Iglesias recently sliced his fingers while on stage in Tijuana, Mexico, when he reached to grab a photography drone taking candid shots of the crowd. Unsurprisingly, the propeller blades didn’t take much notice of his fleshy digits and he had to play out the rest of the gig with a considerable amount of blood on his t-shirt.
Muse’s new album ‘Drones‘ was designed to be accompanied by four-propeller-strong quadcopter cameras on tour – until frontman, Matt Bellamy, realised “we forgot about this thing called the law.” The original plan was to have drones circling the arena, taking footage of the band and the crowd for the tour video – but the custom-made ‘camcopters’ have had to be shelved due to EU health and safety restrictions.
2. Keeping tabs on our kids
Taking the term ‘helicopter parent’ to new heights, Chris Early of Knoxville allowed his eight-year-old daughter Katie to walk unescorted to school – on the condition that he was allowed to monitor her journey by drone. Having been crowned the “world’s most embarrassing dad” by TIME magazine, Early has now apparently retired the drone in favour of more conventional parenting methods.
3. Catching cheaters
Already known as the ‘world’s hardest exam’, China’s National College Entrance Exam (or ‘Gaokao’) will be that much trickier this year following the introduction of anti-cheating drones. Previous students have reportedly resorted to glasses fitted with cameras, pens with in-ear receivers and even radio-transmitting t-shirts to get around security in the exam room. The drones will hover about 1600 feet above the testing centre and scan for signals. Cheaters will apparently be banned from re-taking the exam for three years, by which time there’ll no doubt be even more ridiculous attempts to circumvent exam-room law.
4. Rebelling against advertisers
Famed street artist KATSU is known for taking graffiti to new levels. He’s developed a method of attaching a spray can to a quadcopter drone to ‘tag’ areas that couldn’t previously be accessed. Dubbed the ‘Graffifi Drone’, the resulting product is a combination of a DJI Phantom 2, Arduino chips, 3D printing and a bit of experimentation. KATSU has also taken an anti-consumerism stance against advertising – for example using a drone to spray red paint across Kendall Jenner’s face on a six-story Calvin Klein billboard
5. To be our personal paparazzi
Drone-shot wedding footage is fast gaining popularity as a method of capturing your special day from angles other couples just can’t reach. It’s easy to see why this kind of photography is gaining popularity, but there is an ugly side too: errant drones beaning unsuspecting grooms in the head.
A new consumer drone called Lily has attracted attention from narcissists and filmmakers alike: using a GPS tracker on your wrist, the camera follows you around like a personal reality TV crew. Its accompanying tracker is the really clever bit, allowing the drone to record audio that would usually be drowned out by the rotor blades. Priced at USD 499 initially, one of Lily’s most popular features is the throw-to-launch function, which lets you heave it into the air to start flying.
While there are plenty of novelty uses for drones, as the technology that enables them improves, their popularity in more functional roles will grow. We expect demand to increase in industrial and consumer use. Industrial-use drones can collect site-specific data and images in a cost-efficient way. For example, in the agriculture industry large drones are used to spray crops and take aerial images that guide planting, irrigation and pest management decisions – resulting in increased yields and reduced costs.
Elsewhere, aircrafts, wind turbines, oil pipes and power lines are all coming under the critical eye of inspection drones. Summer season favourite easyJet has enlisted a team of drones to survey its aircraft fleet and report back to the engineering staff if they spot damage or maintenance issues. In the mining industry, drones are tasked with everything from mapping to mineral exploration to tracking stockpiles.
As a by-product of their increasing popularity, demand for semiconductors – the integral components in drones that facilitate functionality such as GPS, gyroscopes and digital radios – is also set to increase. IT research firm Gartner predicts that the semiconductor industry will benefit from the uptake in the commercial drone market, particularly those vendors like Aeroflex, Xilinx, STMicroelectronics and Freescale, that currently have a stake in the global military commercial drone markets.
From personal use to professional, drones are another example of technology moving fast to meet consumer demands and improve efficiency.