In this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Bob Elliott of Elliott Visuals in Olney, Maryland about drones, where we are with them and how the tech and legal world have collided over them. Bob relates his own experiences and provides advice on how to select and invest in one of these new vehicles.
Links of Interest:
- Elliott Visuals in Olney, Maryland
- Autel Robotics – Drone manufacturing and support
- Drones Used in Hollywood
This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor Magazine with Bob Elliott of Elliott Visuals and you can find show notes and equipment links for this one on the web site of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at svconline.com.
Drones. Once a weapon, then a toy and now a commercial tool in AV production. Their capabilities and their uses are growing all the time and the legal, commercial and social aspects to them are getting more complex. Bob Elliott of Elliott Visuals in Maryland is going to give us the latest word on where we are with cameras, batteries and flying time with drones for AV. Coming up next on the SVC Podcast.
Bob I appreciate your getting with us for the SVC Podcast so we can talk about one of the most interesting new AV tools and that of course, is drones. Your outfit, Elliott Visuals, is in Olney, Maryland and that’s about twenty miles north of Washington.
Yes. Olney, Maryland is about 20-22 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, yes.
A neighborhood where they get pretty nervous about drones, I think.
Everybody gets nervous about drones, but particularly people at our capital so they’re very nervous. [Timestamp: 1:21]
And among those who use drones quite a bit in your area is Elliott Visuals so tell us about that.
So Elliott Visuals, elliottvisuals.com, we’ve been around since 1988. And I’ve gone from a sole proprietor to an S corp. and now I’m an LLC because that just makes taxes easier.
Yeah, I understand that one and you’re using drones all the time.
I practice flying whenever I can. So on my days off I take off from places I’m supposed to take off from with my drone and I practice. [Timestamp: 1:59]
I think this has gotten to be such a big thing that there are a lot of people in the drones’ game right now, not just the big guys.
There are a lot of people. Many drone operators aren’t licensed by the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and it has a tendency to make us not look so smart sometimes.
Yeah, plenty of opportunities for the bad drone operators to make it all look bad. So what type of drone, the make and model, do you use and have your money and time invested in?
I fly an Autel. It’s one that is manufactured here in the United States. DJI, and I actually don’t even know what DJI stands for. They’re out of China and they probably make about 85 percent of the world’s drones out of China. [Timestamp: 2:50]
Well, these days that isn’t really surprising. There are a lot of people getting into it, not necessarily commercially but just for the fun of it but the commercial aspects to drones are, you might say, just taking off.
It is taking off. It’s sort of the – I equate it to the car versus the horse and buggy. Everybody is kind of looking at it and trying to define the rules of engagement and it changes every day. Trust me on that one. [Timestamp: 3:15]
Yeah, I’m sure the regulations are in a severe state of flux right now as far as the FAA trying to handle or not handle them as much as they can. The drones run all the way from those tiny hand-sized ones all the way to the ones made by Hollywood film companies and they come up with some pretty fancy machines.
They do. You get the little, small drones. You can buy anything on Amazon, of course. You go to Hollywood and they will usually build their own drone out of carbon fiber and it takes weeks and months to build and lots of batteries and lots of motors and propellers. And usually they have FAA certification to fly and they tell them what they’re shooting and filming and off they go. But they’re actually the vast minority. The vast majority are anywhere between $100.00 and $500.00 drones – that’s for propellers and the motor – and people just buy them and go flying. [Timestamp: 4:13]
And among the many and still growing uses for drones is AV camera platforms so if you’re going to invest in one of these things with that idea in mind, what do you look for as far as specs? I guess power and weight lifting capability would be one of them.
Well, you know, when you’re – AV, when you’re dealing with indoor venues, a lot of times FAA isn’t concerned but of course the FCC, which is signal, is very concerned. You can fly inside, but then you have to deal with production companies and producers and clients and sometimes they really don’t like things flying over their heads that they don’t understand. So I think it’s pretty much up to the remote pilot to convince the powers that be inside of a ballroom or convention center that what they’re about to do is safe and never fly over a crowd. It’s always before doors – it’s like a photographer. Just clear the way, let me get some shots, and then you can open the doors. [Timestamp: 5:15]
One of the many things I’ve seen advertised for drones is the duration of flight time and how long it can operate on one battery charge.
Correct. In the drone world typically 20 minutes is the average time a drone will stay airborne. When you’re dealing with outside venues you have to deal with wind and height and all these things, so that takes into concern whether you can get the drone back and all these things. Inside, no wind, no storms – hopefully – so it might have a longer flight time. I usually try to fly between the height of the tallest ladder and the bottom part of the fastest helicopter. [Timestamp: 5:56]
That’s probably a good idea for those who use them a lot. You know, one of the tidbits of advice I’ve heard about buying a drone is make sure the first one you buy is a cheap one, at least in the price range of something that you’re willing to lose in the process of learning to fly it.
That’s correct. It’s kind of like gambling. Don’t gamble unless you’re willing to lose. So my first two drones were $100.00 and my second drone was $50.00 and I learned on those. I learned real quick about what it can and can’t do. And they both flew away on their own recognizance. I have yet to find them. We call that a fly-away in the drone world. And then I learned by watching and when I purchased my first $1,000.00-plus drone I at least knew how to respect it. [Timestamp: 6:47]
Yeah, I would think that’s always a process you have to go through. We talked about flight time and weight lifting. It depends on what you want to use it for and you can use them for so many different things. I guess they’re all electric motors and propeller-driven but within that realm there must be quite a variance on the engines that you can get for these things.
Yeah. I mean the propulsion you’re doing with little ones with what they call brushed motors – I’m not an engineer or a physicist, but when you get up towards the larger drone we have what they call brushless motors which last a heck of a long time. Usually those are attached to what we call a LiPo battery. It’s a lithium polymer battery. They have a tendency to give you a lot of energy really quickly but they’re not very stable. They’re rechargeable. They on the Lithium ion type of technology, but got to watch them. Can’t leave them alone. You think Samsung had a deal with them you should watch your batteries if you get a drone. [Timestamp: 7:47]
I would figure that being a drone owner would mean learning a lot about batteries and charging pretty quickly. It looks as though when most people think about drones they’re imagining quadcopters and optocopters but there are actually some fixed-wing drones, too.
There are. I mean Autel makes one. I go to the drone ranges a lot. There are fixed-wing drones. It’s not a big consideration for AV because a lot of AV takes place inside so flying something with a fixed wing, whether it’s an electric or gas motor may or may not work. But for the most part when people say drone they think of a quadcopter, four propellers or more. They really don’t think about something with an engine with wings that flies around – although those are cool as well. [Timestamp: 8:33]
Yeah and if the engine quits at least it’s not going to come crashing straight down at least if you still have an RF connection to the controls.
Most assuredly. You see a lot of videos on YouTube about coming down, whether it’s a fixed-wing drone or a quadcopter or optocopter or anything like that, you’ll see a lot of videos about how people get down. Very interesting. [Timestamp: 8:55]
A whole lot of POV footage of crashes. Hopefully a lot more than those shot in real planes.
[Laughs] I’ll tell you, once again YouTube is a fascinating place to see the footage of what respectable or unrespectable drone operators do with their drones. [Timestamp: 9:13]
And there are those who are really upset by them and it’s probably not uncommon to have them shot at or even attacked by birds.
I deal with birds and other flying objects all the time whether they’re bees or wasps or hummingbirds or birds. They see my flying my orange pumpkin, which us Autel people lovingly call our drone. It’s an attraction. Blue jays and hawks look at this thing and they don’t know what to do with it. So not only do you have to look out for aircraft you have to look out for the biologicals as well. [Timestamp: 9:47]
And next week we’re going to talk about drones and drone technology and some of the things that you do when a bunch of drone enthusiasts get together as far as RF coordination and so forth but it’s been fun hearing about this part of it. Bob Elliott of Elliott Visuals in Olney, Maryland and it’ll be great to have you tell us some more about drones.
Glad you were here with us today with Bob Elliott. You can always find show notes and equipment links for the podcasts on the website of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at svconline.com. Next week Bob will tell us about GPS, learning to fly drones and attending a drone event. That’s on the next SVC Podcast.