Sky-high demand for drones this Christmas

Drones are at the top of many Christmas wish-lists this year, but experts warn that the small, remotely piloted flying machines can be tricky to configure and to operate.
Brian Tercero, of Keller Williams Realty, uses a drone to create a high definition video of a property that he is trying to sell for a client, April 18, 2014.  He fells Video footage from a drone can better convey the appeal of a property than standard marketing photos.  The Santa Fe New Mexican, Clyde Mueller / AP photo
Brian Tercero, of Keller Williams Realty, uses a drone to create a high definition video of a property that he is trying to sell for a client, April 18, 2014. He fells Video footage from a drone can better convey the appeal of a property than standard marketing photos. The Santa Fe New Mexican, Clyde Mueller / AP photo

When Andrew Steele, 15, was compiling his list of Christmas presents, a drone was at the top. And he’s not alone.

Thousands of drone fans – young and old – turned out for a recent show devoted to the ­flying machines in Los Angeles.

Until recently most people thought of drones as military aircraft or devices used by businesses, but the recent growth in the use of drones as recreational vehicles has been huge.

And the range of devices on ­offer – many of which will end up gift-wrapped under the Christmas tree on Thursday – is as varied as the demand for them and their uses.

“I really like how it stays static, how it stays at the same place when you move it,” said Andrew, whose parents had to fork out US$1,200 (Dh4,400) for his must-have present.

The growing success of the hovering quadricopter drone has enabled the Chinese manufacturer that makes it to multiply its workforce by a factor of 100 in only eight years.

Tony Mendoza, a salesman with www.uav-rc.com who was manning a stand at the LA fair, showed off a much more basic – and cheaper – model.

“This happens to be a simple drone and it starts at $25,” he says. “It is basically for children and parents wanting to get something for their kids for Christmas.”

Of course, the more drones are given as presents this Christmas, the more of them will be buzzing around over our heads in the New Year.

And that is proving to be a huge headache for regulators.

“It’s important, no matter how small the drone is, to be aware of your surroundings, making sure you’re not operating the drone in a fashion that would endanger anybody,” said former White House adviser Lisa Ellman.

In addition, given that video cameras are built in or easily attachable to many drones, you have to be sure “that you’re not spying on your neighbours in your backyard”, she added.

But even if drones are becoming more accessible for ­everyone, flying one is not necessarily as easy as the experts make it look – and a crash can prove an expensive mistake.

Adam Gibson is a professional who regularly organises drone-training sessions for ­beginners.

“To properly know how to use the system, I would say you need about two weeks, 20 hours a week,” says Gibson, boss of Ctrl. Me.

To avoid accidents, he says, you not only need to be able to pilot it properly, you have to know how to configure it correctly in the first place. If it is not set up right, there is a much higher risk of crashing.

“A lot of the crashes that we see are from not properly calibrating the compass, or it could also be that someone has painted it and when they paint it, it interferes with the GPS,” says ­Gibson.

Once configured correctly and users have learnt how to control it, the sky is the limit – as long as you stay below 120 ­metres, which is the altitude above which it risks running into ­other, larger craft.

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: December 23, 2014 04:00 AM

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