They may not yet be as common as phones or cars, but remote-controlled drones are definitely a force to be reckoned with.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the drone zone has doubled since last year. The big talk this year was the model being launched by GoPro, which needs to move fast to get ahead of arch rival DJI, the top-selling manufacturer.
It unveiled updates to two of its models, introducing a thermal imaging camera, with applications that include search and rescue and fire fighting.
“It’s a thermal camera that will allow people to do all sorts of great applications: industrial inspection, agriculture, and most importantly to me is the life-saving potential,” explained Brendan Schulman, Vice-President of Policy and Legal Affairs at DJI. “Going out there, flying and finding missing people, even at night: the heat sensors just allow people to light up so if you’re in an avalanche or you’re in a forest, it can take hours or days to find someone who’s missing, but using our XT thermal camera, they can find you within minutes.”
Meet Lily. Its makers described it less as a drone, and more as a flying camera. Claimed to be the world’s first throw-and-shoot camera, it is built for thrill seekers to capture aerial photos and videos of runs, jumps, twists and dives.
“You have it in your backpack, you have your tracking device on your wrist, as soon as you’re ready to do something cool – let’s say you want to take a jump – you take out Lily, throw it in the air, take your jump and land it right away. You’ve spent 30 seconds of flight time and you have a cool 30-second video,” CEO Antoine Balaresque explained. “Lily can also do cool things like know when you’re in the air and do automatic slow-mo (motion) of the video. Lily’s a new way of capturing content where you will know you want to do something, throw it in the air and be able to be in the moment right away.”
Chinese drone makers Walkera showed off their hair-raising racing drone, the Runner 250. Claiming speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour and a range of one kilometre, the quadcopter is built with racing fans in mind. It can also be hooked up to a virtual reality headset so users get a real pilot’s view of the action.
“Drone racing basically (means that) you fly a quadcopter of different sizes, different classes, you do hairpin turns and you do it at real high speed. And basically the person that can fly the fastest, without hitting any obstacles, is the champion of the race,” said Leo Yong, Vice President of Walkera USA.
With growing safety concerns over thousands of drones buzzing over our heads in the future, Belgian drone maker Fleye presented its spherical UAV described as a personal flying robot. It’s claimed to be the world’s safest drone as its design means the rotor is shielded and hidden within the body of the craft.
“We are looking more at the niche market where the drones are going to be closer to people, closed environments, so it suits well indoor, close to expensive equipment or buildings, but then it’s just a drone so people are going to use it to take outside aerial photos and videos in places where they cannot easily go by themselves,” said Fleye CEO, Laurent Eschenauer.
Sales of commercial drones are set to soar over the coming decade, driven by applications such as filmmaking, mapping, prospecting and disaster relief. But the industry does faces significant challenges, especially with regards to regulatory policy, safety and privacy.