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Fear and Droning...

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There are certain inalienable truths when it comes to human nature and irrational fear. The unshakable worry that JAWS is still out there any time we dip so much as a toe in the sea.

The intrinsic belief that the machines could one day take over. That technology will turn on us. SIRI will start playing mind games and Alexa will be telling us what to do. That one day when technology can do everything we can do, but better, most of us will be reduced to purposeless bags of skin, slaves to the will of the robots, living in a hellish dystopia where, at best, we're the primary ingredient in some robot brand of Soylent Green.

Aside from the countless examples in popular culture that confound our techno-related irrational fears, let's face it, advances in technology rarely (if ever) make things cosier. Mostly due to the inevitable reduction in human interaction.

Think how much less heart-warming it would have been if JR Hartley had just Googled himself?

"Oh! I can get it by 2pm tomorrow if I use my Amazon Prime! Sorted." Cue tear-jerking music.

Drones are not exempt from eliciting a fearful reaction in the general public (or at least in wider broadcast media). There's the fear that some unlicensed individual could slam one into an important part of the plane when you and the family are jetting off to the Costa Del Sol, or worse, could be outside your home peeping in your windows just as you disrobe. What if one falls out of the sky and plummets to the earth, crushing your skull, your cat or your prized begonias? Or the worry that you'll never again catch the warm gaze of your Amazon delivery person, engage in that brief, yet ever meaningful, "Thanks pal!", or the bittersweet wave goodbye as he exits down your path and into his van full of impulse-buy delights, driving off into the distance… and all because a UAV has taken over his job.

Planes and begonias aside, you are highly unlikely to come away from an encounter with an Amazon delivery man enlightened, entertained nor aroused in even the smallest way so the fact that a drone might one day take his job is neither here nor there for your average punter and like it or not, just as every tired parent knows, "Why bother bathing the kids tonight when we have baby wipes?" There are better, faster, more efficient and cost-effective tools to do the job.

Drones have got to come pretty high on the list of new technologies when it comes to innovating, whether it be for film/television or industrial surveying & inspection. An RTF (ready to fly) drone such as a Phantom or Inspire is simply a way to get a decent camera into the air and keep it there for a surprisingly long amount of time, allowing the operator to get a variety of elevated shots – either emulating what a traditional helicopter set-up would produce or allowing dynamic 3D movements at low altitudes that would either be impossible or incredibly difficult to achieve with cranes and dollies and all at a fantastically low price. (Winning smile).

The addition of aerial filming for a production adds a level of quality by the dynamism it provides; the beauty of the vistas that cannot be captured in any other way and the subconscious suggestion of much bigger budgets than perhaps are available (viewers tend to think "helicopter" & they're expensive, innit?).

Besides the aesthetic addition they provide, drones are also hugely cost effective: a traditional helicopter with a stabilised camera system onboard can cost many thousands per day, take a fair amount of time to organise and get in the air, which means more down time for the rest of the production and are significantly more dangerous to all involved (let's lower those insurance premiums!), whereas even the most complicated drone set-up can lift cinema cameras, be operated by three people and cost around £2k per day. It's a no-brainer really.

For industrial applications (of which there are many), drones with swappable payloads provide the ability to get a measurement device (be it a visual camera, thermal imager or laser scanner) into an area that could otherwise be dangerous or simply difficult by traditional methods, but the greatest advantage of all can be explained by the old adage "time is money". For example, to perform a condition survey of a building with a drone can be done in as little as an hour whereas using traditional methods would take a minimum of a day.

There's a plethora of ways drones are enhancing any number of industries and far from fearing them we should be embracing and building upon their potential. Moreover in Viewpoint's experience the introduction of the drone to any given industry, unlike other technologies, actively enhances and encourages human interaction.

In fact, earning a living as a drone pilot is an incredibly human experience from start to finish. Aside from the fact that Viewpoint are a husband and wife team (meaning constant interaction, blethering & bonding whether we're in the mood for it or not), at every point of our business from gaining permissions, location scouting, informing locals of scheduled flights, briefing of clients, to the actual flying itself, there is an unending and ever-rewarding stream of new people to meet and chat to every day of our working lives.

Something we noticed very early on in our job is that we seem to attract a certain breed of wee old men wherever we go who find what we do endlessly fascinating and we in turn find them to be equally fascinating. They almost always have a story to tell us about a project they're working on. They tell us about their hobbies and interests, their loved ones and pets, their various illnesses and operations. They ask us all sorts of questions about what we do and how we started out. Maybe that's what separates us from the machines and what ultimately means they'll never take over? Fascination. It is our innate ability to look up at the stars, into the eyes of our children or into the beautiful distance in pure fascination that sets us apart from the robots. That and our love of biscuits.

Who knows? One day your local UAV pilot might even become as commonplace as your local postie. So next time you see a man or woman with a drone, stop and say hello. You never know, they might have some interesting stories and they just might be willing to listen to yours.

This article is also available to read in the latest edition of Broadcast Film & Video here, page 36.

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