A View from David Zax
A Drone of One’s Own
An age of UAVs for everyone could be nigh.
Unmanned aerial vehicles may be controversial, particularly in America’s war on terror. But sometimes UAV’s don’t shoot bullets–sometimes they simply shoot photographs. Lehmann Aviation recently announced a miniature, automatic UAV that can be used to take aerial images. It’s so easy a civilian can use it! Provided that civilian has 990€ (plus money to spend on a GoPro camera). Welcome to the age of the personal drone.
A newly-released video gives something of an intimation of how the drone works:
Lehmann Aviation also has a cool Facebook page filled with pictures taken with its UAVs. I particularly love this one of Dettifoss waterfall in Iceland. There’s something grand, yet still intimate, about Lehmann Aviation drone photos. They’re high enough to take in the sights, while low enough to feel like they have more in common with a Hollywood crane shot than with a Google Maps satellite pic. These are bird’s-eye-views, but with a low-flying bird. In that, they’re something like a ball-shaped camera I wrote about last year (see “Ball Camera Takes Spherical Panoramas”).
“With our UAVs, we want to bring to people the opportunity to have a better understanding of the Earth. LA100 is like aerial binoculars,” Benjamin Lehmann tells Technology Review via email. “The idea of micro UAVs was a natural continuation of my personal background (commercial airline pilot, always passionate about the RC aircraft), and the reach of a very high level of miniaturization of electronic components and new MEMS sensors.”
Lehmann Aviation calls the device, whose full name is the LA100, “the world’s first aircraft designed for the users with no piloting background.” How does it work? Simple. Connect the battery and launch it. Wait five minutes for the drone to come back. You’re done. Assuming you strapped a GoPro camera up there–it can be mounted in one of two positions, either atop the wing for oblique images, or below the wing for vertical ones–then you’ve also got a card full of pictures.
The device has a 92 cm wingspan and weighs just 850 grams, made of foam and carbon fiber. The device is rugged and can handle temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius. Lehmann Aviation promises regular hardware and software upgrades on its site.
And how will your neighbors feel about your aerial snooping? Will devices like these provoke outrage? That’s not Lehmann Aviation’s problem, but yours. “The use of Lehmann Aviation aircraft must conform with the applicable regulations and laws of the country where they are operated,” disclaims the company. “It is the sole responsibility of the client to be informed of applicable restrictions.” Paul Marks over at New Scientist has a good primer on UAV law as of February; for the time being, in the US, most hobbyists have pretty free rein.