Drones Filming Events at the Winter Olympics in Sochi
Public exposure to drones has been heavily influenced by media coverage of their military uses, creating a somewhat sinister aspect to UAV technology. Now at the winter Olympics aerial drones are being used to transmit live video of snowboard and ski jump competitions.
They’re increasingly common at sporting events and the Olympics in Sochi are a perfect, high-profile showcase for civilian drone use.
Angela Charlton of Associated Press interviewed several industry authorities about drones at the winter Olympics:
Why use a drone to film Olympic events?
“We can go really, really close. And we are really quiet, so nobody is distracted,” said pilot and cameraman Remo Masima, who has used drones to film skiers in Switzerland for commercials.
And it’s cheaper than a camera crew on a helicopter.
A drone with mounted camera can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $37,000 for a top-of-the-line Ikarus from Britain’s Heliguy, which is advising broadcast clients in Sochi on using drones, said Heliguy’s Justin Pringle.
That compares with the cost of a few thousand dollars an hour to rent a helicopter with pilot, not including the camera crew and equipment.
Flexibility is key. Drones allow unique angles and “allow more height than a crane, but are able to get lower than a helicopter,” said a statement from Olympic Broadcasting Services, which provides the official world feed of all the events at the games and is using one drone in Sochi.
Broadcasting live from a remote-controlled device is more complicated than recording, but not hugely so. It requires an extra transmitter to send back live video, which adds weight and limits how fast the drones can fly. But Masima, who is not involved in the Olympic footage, said he can still fly a drone at up to 40 mph while transmitting a high-definition, live image.
Angela Charlton (AP)
Couldn’t a drone crash onto the crowd?
It could, but so could a much heavier helicopter.
Masima said chances of drone crashes are close to zero when a drone is handled by an experienced pilot, because the drones are programmed to return to base at the slightest problem — such as a low battery, rough winds or a malfunction.
There have been mishaps, however. In one case last year, a drone filming an imitation version of Spain’s running of the bulls in Virginia crashed and injured a few spectators.
Could hackers divert a drone?
It’s possible. While military drones use encrypted GPS signals for navigation, the GPS signals used by civilian drones don’t have that protection.
A team at the University of Texas successfully hacked a drone in an experiment in 2012 through something called “spoofing,” or sending the drone incorrect information about its location. Todd Humphreys, head of the school’s Radionavigation Lab, told a Congressional hearing it would be very difficult for an ordinary person to spoof a drone, although it might be within the capability of a terrorist or criminal network.
Cybersecurity has been a fear in Sochi, given the huge numbers of people in a relatively compact space and the sharp reputation of Russian hackers.
But since the video drones are not armed, there’s a limit to the damage a hacker could do with them.
Are drones legal to fly?
Local laws vary widely in terms of who can fly drones, where and for what purpose. Many countries impose restrictions for reasons of security and privacy, and so they won’t interfere with airplanes.
For the Sochi Games, Olympic Broadcasting Services said a flight plan must be filed with the Russian civil aviation authority and permission obtained from local Russian police and the FSB, the successor to the KGB.
The Russian government also bought a fleet of drones to help spot terrorists or troublemakers in the Sochi area, operated by its security services.
In some countries, it’s illegal to fly over crowds. Some countries require civilian users to keep the drone within sight of the pilot. Others have altitude restrictions. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration is working on rules for civilian drones.
So, is this the future of sports video?
Masima doesn’t hesitate. “For sure.”
Photo: Yahoo News