Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hovercams Growing From Toy To Tool

I get a little excited about a new technology on occasion, or an old technology that suddenly made the leap into an affordable price bracket. Since yesterday, I've been contemplating the Parrot AR Drone 2.0. Yes, you read that right: a drone.



Looking more like an insect than a camera, is a drone
the next step in railroad photography and video? 
Like a model helicopter, it flies using rotating blades. Like some copters, the drone takes pictures or video in HD. Unlike a helicopter, it has software and a hi-tech control suite that keeps the drone from crashing as easily. Notice I didn't stop at the word crashing, because I'm sure it's possible to crash these. Yet how many potential photographers have shied at the prospect of model aircraft or rotorcraft due to the likely prospect of turning a $1,500 work of art into a decorative bench ornament or worse, that eyesore sticking out of a neighbor's roof.

Head gear? Guards give the drone a
more visible if ungainly appearance
Is a Parrot Drone or any of its competitor's creations just a toy or is it a valuable tool that photographers can use to check out locations or even use to produce an image? Could this toy/tool be used to photograph trains, or capture video of sufficient quality? One store is already quite willing to let serious photographers find out.


Imagine a dolly shot starting on one side, going up and over a moving intermodal and down the other side moving against the trains direction of travel ...without the dolly or the time and effort it takes to build such a rig and put it in place. What about programming a course to fly via GPS when the train comes by, hitting "Go" as the train passes a certain spot and, while the drone does it's thing, you rip as many frames as your dSLR will let you, just like before?

I'm beginning to wonder about other uses. How could Union Pacific or BNSF, or even San Luis & Rio Grande use this? Railroad police could use it to inspect those areas of the yard that aren't as accessible or safe as they'd like it to be. What about using one with a track crew to survey ahead of a boulder that's blocking their high rail vehicle or getting access to see if the string of coal cars are all empty and not just the first three? Some benefits might just be worth the expense, especially if a company smartphone or tablet can control it with no special training for the employee. There are applications that may only present themselves after they spend a few weeks out there. I wonder if there's a division or sub already using these.

What about you? Would you buy one or rent one?

Thanks to B&H for letting me steal the photos of their fine product.

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