A few weeks ago, I bought a DJI Phantom 2 Drone on Amazon. I’ve wanted one for quite awhile, but I kept questioning my own judgment for contemplating such a ridiculous purchase. After a few test flights, though, I can say with certainty that buying a drone is probably the best decision I’ve made since coming to business school.
To be clear, this thing is way more than a toy. It’s primarily used by videographers who want to shoot aerial footage at a much lower cost than other options (like hiring a helicopter). The Phantom 2 flies up to one kilometer high at speeds north of 25mph, and responds to commands instantaneously. The controls take a little getting used to, but if you ever played N64 Goldeneye as a kid, it won’t take long at all.
On the Tuesday night my Amazon package arrived, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I placed the box on our kitchen counter, grabbed a knife from one of the drawers, and slowly began cutting through the tape. After unpacking and assembling the different pieces, I decided that I couldn’t wait until morning to try it out. My roommates watched as I placed the drone on our kitchen floor, both hands clenching the remote control in anticipation of first flight. I powered up the battery, turned on controller, and shielded my eyes from the tornado of dust swirling around the propellers. After a few seconds, I slowly pushed the left joystick forward, and the drone began to rise into the air.
My excitement was short-lived. Within six seconds, I lost control of the drone and it immediately crashed into the wall. Should’ve seen that one coming.
Before taking the drone out for a second flight, I did some Googling to educate myself on any applicable laws. Turns out there are several. First, airspace above 400 feet is regulated by the FAA, so that’s the upper limit for amateur drone fliers. In addition, operating a drone for commercial use is currently prohibited in the U.S. until the FAA figures out how to regulate them. Which is why the FAA goes around busting awesome guys who deliver beer with drones.
It’s unfortunate that the FAA chooses to impede innovation in this nascent industry by not keeping up with technology. The FAA is not expected to provide regulatory guidance of any kind until September 2015, at the earliest. There are literally hundreds of commercial drone applications just waiting to be explored by large companies and entrepreneurs alike. Beyond professional photography and Hollywood movie-making, drones have a myriad of uses: infrastructure inspections, crop monitoring and optimization, search and rescue, oil spill monitoring, police and emergency services, sporting events, package delivery, taco delivery…the list goes on. Hopefully, commercial drone laws will be enacted soon, so that people can start exploring and commercializing some of these exciting uses.
Here’s a video of my second flight in Millennium Park.
Last weekend, I brought my drone to Lake Tahoe to film my friends and I skiing at Squaw Valley. I captured some pretty awesome footage, and complete strangers started following me around the mountain to watch the aerial performance we were putting on. On the way back home, we stopped by Lake Tahoe, and I pulled out the Phantom for a quick flight over the shoreline. It was a beautiful day – sunny, no wind, and a crystal clear lake.
Midway through the flight, my drone stopped responding to remote control commands. It began descending at a rapid pace, and despite my RC instructions to elevate, it crashed into the shallow water, breaking the gimbal and camera. The drone bounced back up off some rocks, but the impact must have caused internal damage. It began wandering aimlessly through the air without any ability to be controlled. Eventually, my precious drone drifted into a tall pine tree about 40 feet up and plummeted to the ground. The GoPro camera ripped off, and parts of the drone blades were scattered around the crash site.
I had a feeling this day would come, I just didn’t think it would come so soon. There are still so many things I want to film with my Phantom. And I was just starting to get good at flying it, too. Oh well, I try not to dwell on the past. Maybe I can fix it, or maybe I’ll just stick to ground activities for a bit.
I won’t be deterred for long, though. Soon enough, my drone will rule the skies of Chicago once again.