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From his column Church Tech

church-tech-11-14-1In December of 2013, Amazon released a video depicting a small flying device with eight vertical propellers, an octocopter, delivering a package from its warehouse to a location within hours of the order being placed. If you have not seen this, then stop right now and watch Amazon Prime Air. Many of us wondered if they were a little early for April Fool’s day. Or perhaps it was just a stunt to steal press from Google’s self-driving cars. But a year later it looks like the commercial drone market is about to get real.

Types of Drones

One type of drone control requires a human being to pilot the device. Moviemakers are interested in this type of control to obtain camera shots that typically require the more expensive and dangerous use of helicopters and camera crews. Some shots just may not be possible with a traditional flying craft full of people.

Individuals can use drone-equipped cameras to document events from perspectives not usually available. Consider this footage from Hong Kong’s recent protests, a tour of the world via drone, or witness a childhood fantasy of mine come true in this video taken in a sky filled with exploding fireworks. A number of these videos have been made by creative amateurs using inexpensive quadcopters and sports video cameras like the Go Pro or Polaroid Cube, which are readily available. Would you like to have a promo video which includes an overhead shot of your place of worship as the camera flows past community gardens, and perhaps a group gathered for an outdoor event? Now, this is within reach.

There also are environmental uses of these small flying wonders. They are being used to study volcano flows, keep tabs on rainforests, and more. Making observations of hard or dangerous to reach locations is a great use of this technology.

Another type of drone control adds gyroscopes, GPS, and navigation software to automatically pilot the drone to its destination. Germany’s DHL is experimenting with this type of device to deliver prescription drugs and other small goods using its aptly named parcelcopter. The magnificent flying machine can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour as it travels from the mainland of Germany to the offshore island of Juist; however, as no cars are permitted on the island, bicycle couriers must be used to make the final leg of the journey.

Questions Raised

Some have expressed concerns about privacy with the advent of cheaply priced flying cameras. Imagine a sky full of these devices and the troubles that could be wrought: harassment of the famous by paparazzi, sports teams spying on practices of their opponents, corporate espionage, theft planning, etc. Other concerns include disruption of the enjoyment of the outdoors in our national parks. Mount Rushmore may not be quite the same if hundreds of vacationers are buzzing about from the comfort of their homes. Another concern is that these flying avatars and delivery agents may interfere with the flight path of traditional aircraft. Until recently the only FAA-approved commercial use of drones was by ConocoPhillips for monitoring oil fields and pipelines in Alaska. But on September 25 of this year, the FAA approved the limited use of commercial drones specifically for the purposes of making movies. Flight height restrictions and limited flight path rules were included to assuage the concerns of privacy and commercial flight interference. Many view this as the open door to a world of possibilities.

Changes on the Way

The advancing technology and increased manufacture of drones are making them more popular and obtainable by businesses and individuals alike. Whether they are used for quick delivery of a prescription to a shut in, a virtual tour of the world from the perspective of an eagle, or for saving money on video shoots, clever people will continue to harness this emerging technology to change the world and enable the future.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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