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Dronecam Captures Tech Changing Bulb at 1,500 Feet

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.—Drone footage continues to break new ground even as feds grapple with how to regulate the unmanned aerial vehicles.

This time, some tower techs in South Dakota have created a viral drone phenomenon with footage of climber Kevin Schmidt changing a light bulb at 1,500 feet above ground. The footage depicts surreal perspectives of Schmidt from close-in, overhead, and right next to him.

It was captured by Todd Thorin and his sons Joseph and Michael , who run Prairie Aerial, “the premier professional aerial photography and videography outfit in the Great Plains region of the United States,” according to their website. They posted a two-minute edit of Schmidt climbing “to the very top of the now inactive KDLT-TV analog broadcast antenna near Salem, S.D.,” on YouTube last November.

“Somebody has to change out that light bulb at the top of those tall TV towers!” they said.

The video is available in 1080p on YouTube. TV Technology queried the Thorins about their rigs and cameras and has yet to hear back, quite possibly because commercial drone flight is not yet legal.

(Todd Thorin replied after publication; TV Technology has follow-up questions with him here.) Regarding a gear query: “The UAV we used is a DJI Phantom 2 that has been modified for higher performance. It has more powerful motors (AntiGravity) than the stock motors and balanced carbon fiber props. We control it with a Futaba T8FGS transmitter that gives us more flexibility and functions. We have five batteries and two chargers for the Phantom so we can fly all day.

The camera used is a GoPro 3+Black also modified with a 5.4mm rectilinear flat lens with IR filter. We fly it with a three-stop Polar-pro ND filter. The gimbal is a zenmuse h3-3d, we do not counter-balance for the weight of the ND filter and it works great. Recording at 2.7k, 30 fps ProTune on. FPV is a 5.8Ghz SD system, with dual diversity 9”HD monitor and Goggles on the ground.”

The Prairie Aerial video had around quarter of a million views as of last Sunday, and nearly four times that today after a pirate posted it on Facebook and CNN Money caught up with the story. The elder Thorin, who edited the footage, told CNN Money the traffic spike caught them off guard, and they hired London firm Viral Spiral to manage it. The article noted that the drone flight was in violation of Federal Aviation Administration rules, which limit flight altitude to 400 feet. The civil penalty for unauthorized commercial drone flight is $10,000.

The Thorins are hardly alone, however. The national appetite for camera-equipped drones has exploded in recent years as the reduction in camera and drone size intersected with an increase in Wi-Fi efficacy. Drones were a prominent feature at the 2014 National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas last April. TV news organizations have been looking into drone journalism for several years as an alternative to the use of helicopters, particularly since the deadly crash of a KOMO-TV news chopper in Seattle last March.

Drones are also a highlight at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Nixie, a five-person start-up with a self-launching wearable drone the size of a wristwatch and winner of last November’s $500,000 Make It Wearable Challenge said they have “big—and we really mean big—things planned” for CES in Las Vegas this week.

CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro also held a presser on Wednesday with an FAA official and drone lobbyists on safety and regulations. Drones are considered model aircraft under FAA rules and limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified. They cannot be flown within five miles of an airport without prior notification, and must remain within visual contact of the operator.

Congress has mandated that the FAA issue drone-operation rules by this September. In the meantime, the agency is doing one-offs. The first commercial drone flight over land was approved last June for BP to survey its pipelines in Alaska.

More recently, six production companies were cleared for using drones in video shoots, including Pictorvision. The company’s president, Tom Hallman, recently told BE Extra that the rules governing drone cinematography are similar to those for manned flight.

“For instance, the pilot-in-command, the individual controlling the flight of the UAV, must be a licensed private pilot with a current third-class medical certificate, and have a certain minimum amount of flight experience flying UAVs” he said.

The movie industry managed to get a pass through its lobby in Washington, the Motion Picture Association of America. The TV news lobby, the Radio Television Digital News Association, followed up the MPAA’s win by calling on stations to send in drone footage to take to use as ammunition for FAA waivers. Networks and station groups generally are holding back for FAA clarification, though some are forging ahead. KEZI-TV, the Heartland Media-owned ABC affiliate in Eugene, Ore., deployed its first drone last November. Dubbed “Sky9,” it was used to capture overhead footage of a local high school football game.

And finally, next month, in near defiance of federal regulators, the First Annual New York City Drone Film Festival will debut in the Big Apple. It promises to showcase some of the “most famous viral drone videos,” and give awards for various aspects of drone filmmaking.

The event is scheduled for Feb. 21.

November 11, 2014
First Annual NYC Drone Film Festival Planned
A film festival dedicated exclusively to drone cinema, NYCDFF will showcase the most famous viral drone videos alongside original content, offering the only opportunity to see the “best of the best” in drone and unmanned aerial vehicle cinema on the big screen.

November 6, 2014
RTDNA Needs Journo-Drone Stories
The organization representing broadcast news operations is itself seeking stories about newsgathering drones. The RTDNA is urging members to “send us examples of drone uses,” so the organization can take them before the FAA in its bid to get a waiver for their use.


October 24, 2014
Video Production With UAVs: A Conversation With Tom Hallman
The FAA recently cleared the way for six companies to use unmanned aerial vehicles for shooting film and television projects. Pictorvision was one of the companies that received approval from the FAA for commercial drone applications, so BE Extra thought it would be good to find out what this means to film and television producers.

September 29, 2014
Wristband Drone Prototype Unveiled
A team of devs have created a wristband drone. The Nixie wearable drone targets folks who want to capture themselves doing something amazing, or at least not captureable in the normal selfie mode.

June 12, 2014
FAA Approves First Commercial Drone Flight Over Land
The FAA has given approval for energy corporation BP and unmanned aircraft systems manufacturer AeroVironment to fly an AeroVironment Puma AE for aerial surveys in Alaska—the first time the FAA has authorized a commercial UAS operation over land.

April 24, 2014
“Choppers v. Drones for ENG
The double-fatality crash of the KOMO-TV news helicopter in Seattle in March is just the latest in a series of deadly news helicopter crashes in recent years. At least 18 people have died in U.S. news copter crashes since 2000, with another 19 injured, according to data compiled by New York Magazine.

April 17, 2014
Drones Over NAB
Every year at the annual gathering, one or more technologies create a significant buzz among attendees. This year that buzz could be heard loud and clear--coming from four (or more) propeller blades attached to a flying drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAVs, as they are known in the industry, with miniature HD cameras on board.

May 29, 2012
Drone Journalism
Matt Waite, a professor of journalism at the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one of a handful of journalists studying the concept of drone journalism, and recently established a “drone journalism” lab in late 2011.