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Drone’s Eye View of Richmond, VA

I was back on the east coast for the holidays visiting family and friends. I brought the new DJI Mavic Pro with me (fantastic little drone btw, best one yet) while visiting Richmond, Virginia. The mighty James River runs through this historic city, a perfect place for capturing some aerials. This short aerial film was shot during the closing days of 2016 during an especially magical golden hour.

2016 Drone Year in Review

(originally published on Medium on 12/31/16)

Celebrating Drone Culture

I launched the Flying Robot international Film Festival, the first international drone film festival, in 2015. FRiFF is a drone shorts festival focused on fantastic aerial cinematography, storytelling and the positive uses of drones. By many measures, the inaugural festival was a success. We received over 150 entries from 35 countries across 7 categories. We screened 20 selections and awarded prizes to 14 winners valued at over $10k. A number of well known drone industry companies and startups stepped up as sponsors. We sold out two screenings in San Francisco and took the inaugural program on the road to Australia, Indonesia and the Netherlands earlier this year.

FRiFF 2016 World Premiere in San Francisco

FRiFF 2016 World Premiere in San Francisco

Year two of FRiFF premiered November 17th this year, again in San Francisco at the Roxie Theater. More entries from more countries flooded in as the bar in quality and variety continued to elevate. New this year, we added the first ever Flying Robot Aerial Imagery Day. This all day event consisted of a series of presentations, talks and workshops on all things drone based aerial imagery. While not as well attended as I had hoped, the caliber and diversity of presentations were stellar. Plenty of lessons learned for next year.

Drones For Good

Something that doesn’t get a lot of ink in the hype around drones are their humanitarian potential. Drones are being used to deliver life saving medicine and blood to rural villages in Rwanda, to prevent poaching of endangered rhinos and elephants and to save the rainforests of indigenous lands in Panama. We have a Drones for Good category in FRiFF specifically for highlighting these vital stories.

Commercial Drone Operations — FAA Part 107

The Federal Aviation Administration oversees manned and unmanned aircraft regulations in the US. The FAA released their long awaited Small UAS Rule regarding commercial drone operations on August 29th, creating a path for drone pilots to legally become certified to fly for commercial purposes.

I soon decided to become certified as a Remote Pilot by taking the remote pilot certificate exam. It wasn’t very hard but did take a bit of studying. If you’re interested in getting certified for commercial operations, I recommend this resource put together by 3DR.

Now that I’m Part 107 certified, I’m able to do aerial drone work-for-hire. I did a fair bit this year, primarily capturing aerial footage for creative production companies and architecture firms. I plan to do more of this in 2017, as well as providing consulting services around commercial drone applications.

Looking Toward 2017

Drone innovation is accelerating at a breakneck pace. For something that’s really only been a viable option for little more than 3 years, it’s crazy insane how far things have progressed. In 2013, a quadcopter drone could barely find its own way home. Now consumer drones can capture buttery smooth 4k imagery, see objects around them, avoid or track them, fly repeatable mission paths, stay aloft much longer and can almost fit in your pocket.

Of course, drones are used for more than just capturing incredible photos and video. The commercial applications of drones are numerous. DroneDeploy is a well-funded startup that provides cloud-based photogrammetry services (3D maps and models created from aerial photos) for industries such as construction, agriculture, industrial inspection and mining. Their services are made to work with any drone, though it couldn’t be any simpler with those made by DJI. DroneDeploy just closed $20m in a Series B round this past August, adding rocket fuel to their efforts.

DroneDeploy 2d Map of Balinese Temple

DroneDeploy 2d Map of Balinese Temple

This December in San Francisco, Chinese drone maker DJI hosted DJI Airworks, their first ever enterprise drone conference. This event focused on industrial applications of drones across an array of industries. DJI brought together service providers, startup companies and early adopters who are pushing the envelope of what’s possible with drones in agriculture, public safety, construction and inspection. Commercial drones are projected to be a $127 billion market by 2020. This is not a bad horse to hitch your air wagon to.

DJI Airworks: Aerial Thermal Imaging Applications

DJI Airworks: Aerial Thermal Imaging Applications

FPV (first person view) drone racing is the adrenaline junky side of drones. It’s easy to see why this sport is so addictive and captures the imagination. I’ve built a couple drones for racing but readily admit my stick game isn’t nearly as good as the 20-somethings who live and breath this stuff on a daily basis. YouTube is chock full of masterful FPV racers & freestyle flyers doing their thing. Some recommendations: Rotor Riot, Mr Steele, Skitzo FPV, Zoe FPV, Vondrone, Aerial Sports League. Big money has already arrived in the FPV world. Top racers are being sponsored and flown to tournaments around the globe. This will only grow as more people discover this new sport.

FPV Racers at Bay Area Maker Faire 2016

FPV Racers at Bay Area Maker Faire 2016

2017 will continue to be interesting and innovative as drones become more accepted and commonplace in business, humanitarian work, art and leisure. I, for one, welcome our flying robotic overloads.

Spunout on TI

Spunout on TI

Introducing the Flying Robot International Film Festival

I recently opened the doors on a new project I’ve been working on. FRiFF or the Flying Robot international Film Festival is a film festival focused on short form cinema created from the perspective of flying cameras. You know, drones.

FRiFF Logo

The Flying Robot International Film Festival takes off.

I had the idea for a drone film festival after witnessing the rise of so much epic aerial filmmaking over the past few years. Now that consumer camera drones are readily available and fairly inexpensive, we’re seeing a huge uptick in aerial cinema on YouTube and Vimeo. I want to highlight the best stuff out there and really encourage filmmakers to take it to the next level.

There are six categories of films that we are accepting submissions for. Breathtaking aerial cinematography of exotic landscapes and sunsets will always be mesmerizing. Combine that with a decent story and you’re a good candidate for the Cinematic category.

In the Drones for Good category, we will highlight projects that use drones for the betterment of humanity. There are a growing number of examples of drones being used for good, such as the Syrian Airlift Project, which sends drones over the border to war-torn Syria to drop off medical supplies. Conservation Drones use fixed-wing drones to protect forests and monitor endangered wildlife.

FRiFFest

A flying camera drone at an abandoned NSA listening post in Berlin.

Aerial sports is an area that’s really taken the world by storm. FPV racing and aerial head-to-head drone dogfighting films will do well in the Aerial Sports category. The Aerial Sports League and the US Drone National Championships are two organizations that have brought in large numbers of participants and spectators. Just watching an FPV race from the perspective of a racer quad is mind blowing.

I Made That! is a natural category as there are many maker dads and hacker pilots building their own flying robotic contraptions. Films that depict these creative works are very welcome.

WTF LOL is meant to highlight the hilarious and the ridiculous. It’s one of those things that you know when you see it.

Student Films, because our kids are our future. This category is free to enter until the regular deadline (the other categories are $5-10 per entry).

Winners in all six categories as well as a “best in show” winner, as determined by our panel of esteemed judges, will receive valuable prizes in the form of flying robots, cameras and accessories. The festival will culminate in screenings and an awards ceremony in early November in San Francisco.

If you’ve been making drone videos or just starting out, I highly encourage you to submit your best work and maybe you’ll fly away with a new robotic friend.

Aerial Tour of the Port of Oakland

Take a 3 minute tour of the Port of Oakland, the fifth busiest container shipping terminal in the US. Things to see: Big cranes! Big ships! Lots of containers! Be sure to click the gear icon to watch in full 4K glory.

I shot this while on a walking tour of the Port in support of the The Container Guide by Tim Hwang and Craig Cannon. Flying camera used was a DJI Phantom 3 Professional.

Of course, any self-respecting walking tour with a drone requires a dronie.

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