Last weekend as I fought for the best shots I could get at Formula Drift Long Beach I was at one point startled by a loud buzzing sound which seemed to come from overhead. I looked up and I saw what I could only describe as a giant hovering robo-spider in the sky above me. Then, to my surprise it followed the sliding cars below, hovering just 10 to 20 feet above them as they sped by.
It was startling and awesome all at the same time. I continued to watch the machine work until it eventually swiftly returned back to the photo pit area and landed safely, waiting for the next run so it could take to the skies once again. This thing was awesome. It looked evil, sounded alien in nature, but had complete precision in its task. Upon further inspection I could see that the drone was made almost completely from carbon fiber, even down to the props on each of the 8 electric copter engines. The drone also utilized a Canon 5D Mark III housed in a cradle underneath.
I was so fascinated by it that I decided to find the “pilot” or “pilots” if you will to learn what they were up to. Turns out the drone was owned and operated by Kyle Dorosz of Aerial Imagery Works based in Detroit, MI. Kyle was hired by Formula Drift to get aerial shots of drift battles to use for their television show. Kyle told me that he occasionally gets hired by parties such as this to film sporting events and the like.
The particular drone that Kyle was using at Formula Drift actually requires a two man team. Kyle himself pilots the drone while his associate uses a separate remote to control servos attached to the camera cradle to pan and tilt making sure the action is kept in frame. The camera man is able to do this via a VR style headset which wirelessly picks up the video feed from the 5D.
In addition to filming for clients Kyle also builds the drones himself and makes them available for sale. The drone on hand at Formula Drift has a price tag of $35,000. Which sounds astronomical but the Canon 5D Mark III, video headset, two remotes, charger, and pilot training are all included in the price. There are also smaller, lighter less expensive models available that utilize smaller cameras (GoPro, etc.).
You would think his most common clients are from the Hollywood set but according to Kyle his most common customers are law enforcement agencies. They use the drones for tactical purposes, such as surveying an area before sending in a S.W.A.T. team.
Kyle says the ceiling is technically 10,000 feet but due to FAA regulations, he usually has to keep the ceiling down to 400ft or so. The battery will last about 10 minutes per flight before needing to be charged again. The drone also has several safety features. It can stay airborne even if three out of 8 engines fail and if the battery gets too low to sustain flight an on board computer takes over and uses an auto pilot paired with GPS to send the drone back to the exact point of its last take off.
Maybe we need to invest in one of these drones for MotorworldHype. It would sure beat getting pelted with tire bits while choking on smoke!
If you want to see the drone in action check out the short video piece I did below.