In this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles continues his talk with Bob Elliott of Elliott Visuals in Olney, Maryland about drones, GPS, learning to fly a drone and participating in drone meets. He also has reminders on the legal aspects of owning and flying an unmanned aerial vehicle. Drone measures and countermeasures are also discussed.
Links of Interest:
- Elliott Visuals in Olney, Maryland
- DJI with a wide selection of drones
- Aerobo – Drones in TV and film production
This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor Magazine with Bob Elliott of Elliott Visuals and you can find all the show notes and equipment links for this podcast on the web site of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at svconline.com.
One of the most exciting and useful new tools for AV production is the drone but controversy and politics also surround them. Bob Elliott of Elliot Visuals, a commercial drone operator in the Washington, D.C. area is back to talk about GPS, learning to fly drones and attending drone meets. That’s right here on the SVC Podcast.
Bob, good to have you back with us from last week on the SVC Podcast from Elliott Visuals in the Washington, D.C. area. Last week we were talking about drones and getting one and what to do, what not to do and their capabilities. Those capabilities are generating new legal aspects almost every day. Do you think the two will ever coincide? I mean, technology never waits on the law, does it?
No. The law is always there waiting. It’s incredible. How the drone realm and the legal realm are always shaking hands whether they really want to or not. But I have a legal counsel and I have insurance, so the legal world is very well-adhered to the drone world. [Timestamp: 1:32]
Yeah, I would think that there are law firms who are just beginning to have to sort all of this out and represent clients who love drones as well as others who hate them. We’ve seen the way that communications laws had had to evolve so fast to keep up with the technology and of course the FCC actually has its finger on drones, too.
It does. There’s a lot of, once again legal, I would say, assistance at this time. I have to carry, in order to be above the law, I carry liability insurance. I carry drone equipment insurance. And you can go anywhere you want to pick up insurance, and one of the places I go to a lot for my clients to put them at ease, I go to Verifly, which is an app you put in your phone and you can just go buy insurance for that hour you fly somewhere where you want to fly. And you buy it and you print it or you show them the phone and it’s all good and off you go making money. It’s a good thing. [Timestamp: 2:33]
Wow, now that is an unusual concept but it sort of follows. There is insurance for airplane owners that covers the plane only while it’s on the ground and other policies that begin coverage as soon as you add power for takeoff but I’ve never heard of the type that only covers you as the operator for a specific flight.
They do. They most definitely cover you by the flight, by the time, by the hour, what you’re doing. They offer up to $2.5 million of insurance for an hour and it’s very cost effective. It’s $20.00, $30.00, $35.00 depending on what you do, how you do, and how much insurance you want to show for it. As long as you don’t fly above people, knock yourself out. The client is always appreciative that you carry these things. [Timestamp: 3:18]
Another thing that I found interesting on the legal aspect of it is that there are different regulations for operating tethered drones than those on free-flying models.
A long time ago I used to have a little Cessna RC-controlled plane. It was tethered; I had strings to it. That’s what tethering means. It means that it’s not autonomous. So well, the string broke and my little Cessna gas-powered plane flew away and I never heard from it again – nor anybody else. So tethering brings into certain things – law, the FAA. The FCC is not too concerned, but tethering a drone is usually not smart and a lot of times tethering is to blimps or balloons, which is a whole ‘nother bailiwick. [Timestamp: 4:05]
I’m sure all the ins and outs of that have been worked out in the law but there would be obvious limits as to what you can do with a tethered drone. But I can think of a few things where a tethered drone might actually be perfectly suitable without having to deal with some of the regulations.
It does. I mean, when you have – and trust me, I’ve seen tethered items. It’s very difficult to tether a drone, but usually when you have a tethered blimp or dirigible the insurance has lessened and FAA is less concerned of fly-aways. But you have to also prove that it’s not going to fly away and you always have to have a back-up tether. If you only have one primary tether that may or may not give you the insurance coverage you need. You need to show that it’s doubly insured with two tethers – two is one, one is none kind of concept. [Timestamp: 4:57]
Drones can certainly be a hobby as well as a commercial application and wherever you have a lot of people interested in the same thing you have get-togethers and drone meets. When drone people have an event, how is the RF coordination done? That must be a big job.
Well, I mean, a lot of the time when I get drone enthusiasts together – I was just up in New York City for another race – and everything is flown on Wi-Fi, which is 2.4 to 5.8 gigahertz, so 32 channels. It has a tendency to make some people’s job a little bit more primary than others, but we all get together, we all race drones, we fly drones. It’s a very distinct community of individuals ranging from two years old to 95 years old. Everybody is very fascinated with how do you get that thing in the air and how do you keep control of it down the track? So signal is very important to drone operators. [Timestamp: 5:57]
Yeah, I guess when you get a whole bunch of these people together they’re pretty strict on when you can have it on and when you have to keep it turned off.
Most distinctly, if you’ve ever been to a drone event there’s always somebody who’s not listening – they’re concerned about something else – and they turn on their drone that happens to be on the same channel as somebody else and it falls out of the sky. So multiple times I’ve seen that – drones looking for drones at these events. So be sure that you chime in with the person who’s in charge of frequencies before you turn that thing on. [Timestamp: 6:29]
One of the most widely-advertised features that I’ve seen on drones is the ability for it to autonomously go to a specific GPS location if you lose RF communication with it.
Not so much the racing drones, but like my drone and some of the DJI drones you can set what they call a home point and the home point is where you are, where you want the drone to land. You can tell it what to do. But it’s important to know that you, the operator, the pilot, has to be able to tell it what to do because it’s just a platform. It doesn’t know where it’s at. It doesn’t know what it’s doing. So I usually have a like a 200-foot ceiling which gets me above most power lines and trees so if I ever lose contact with my drone it’s going to go up to 200 feet and make an L 200 feet to where I tell it home is and it’s been safe so far. [Timestamp: 7:22]
So for AV applications as opposed to just having fun with it, what sort of video footage to you usually shoot with your drone?
Well, there’s inside and outside footage. Inside footage for AV is typically getting shots on set, maybe doing an intro for a vice president or president of a company or stuff. Those are usually what we call B roll. Very little do we shoot A roll inside of a live venue because there’s way too many concerns about what’s going to happen, especially when everybody taps onto their phone. Or most assuredly if there’s Wi-Fi in the house that’s going to interrupt our signal. So when you fly outside typically you fly GPS, which are positioning satellites above us. [Timestamp: 8:08]
Last week we talked a little about your particular make and model. What sort of features does that one have that you found especially useful for a drone in the AV realm?
What I had in the AV realm was for the most part I could fly inside. And I could put it on ATTI mode, which is attitude mode, so I could fly inside. And you have to be an expert at flying this thing. You can’t just turn it on and think it’s going to do something because it doesn’t know where it’s at. It doesn’t know what ballroom or convention or city. It doesn’t know where it’s at. So a lot of times I would fly inside and get some really dramatic footage. You just have to know that certain drones, depending on your budget, won’t operate very well inside. DJI drones and Autel drones will have forward, ground and sometimes even rear-firing sonar or radar so it knows where the walls are, the floors are, the ceilings are so you can photograph a little bit better inside most assuredly. [Timestamp: 9:09
Well, some of these vehicles are getting so fancy that they may be smarter than some of the operators and the learning curve may be a little steep on some of them. Are there major differences between the control devices and how quickly you can learn those?
Yeah. Well, I mean I started up with Hubsan drones. They’re quick to learn on. There’s a lot of drones that are in the $50.00-$100.00 range that you can practice on. I wouldn’t practice inside. And you know, when you’re willing to step up to the game and invest some money you get an Autel or DJI, which will range from $1,000.00-$5,000.00 and you work from there. I like my Autel because if for some reason my phone or my laptop or my Kindle or whatever I’m flying it doesn’t work, I can still fly my drone. It’s difficult to do that with the DJI drone because they connect to the phone or the Wi-Fi in the area, which then has a tendency to confuse things, especially inside. [Timestamp: 10:11]
And GPS plays a huge role in drone technology and that can be tricky. There are devices out there now that can simulate a GPS signal and commandeer your drone and crash it or just fly it away.
GPS, you know I don’t want to harp on the Russians or the Chinese. You know, once you’re dealing with signal and code and 1’s and 0’s, if anybody has any aptitude or the willingness to do something that is a little bit unsavory they will. You can hack into anything. So it’s a predicament for a small percentage, but it’s still out there. I’m not going to say it’s not out there. And Autel has a way of dealing with things, DJI has a way of dealing with things, manufacturers have a way of dealing with things. So we just hope for the most part the GPS will tell you what you’re doing with your drone but Wi-Fi tells your drone what to do. So two different signals, but it’s a whole ‘nother show. [Timestamp: 11:10]
So it’s measures and countermeasures as the usual technology leapfrog game.
Most assuredly. The police – and it doesn’t matter where you are in the world – they will either shoot a Wi-Fi signal at your drone, they’re shoot a net at your drone. France has birds of prey that attack drones, so that’s a biological. Go ahead and figure that one out. So if you’re above board and you’re doing things correctly, you’re the least likely to be intercepted by countermeasures. If you’re just being a yahoo flying around getting crazy footage you’re more susceptible to the law enforcement agency putting the kibosh on you. [Timestamp: 11:56]
We’re still discovering more uses for drones in the AV world and elsewhere. Always fun talking about these things. Bob Elliott of Elliott Visuals in the Washington, DC area and thanks for lending us your expertise on them, Bob.
I appreciate the opportunity to try to enlighten people into the new and developing technology of drones. [Timestamp: 12:15]
Thanks for being with us and with Bob Elliott of Elliott Visuals on the podcast. Show notes and more drone links are on the Sound and Video Contractor Magazine website at svconline.com. Get back with us again next week for the SVC Podcast.