The drone rangers

  • Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 18, 2015 20:16 IST

A Drone hovers over new buildings and empty tracts of land. is using it to get videos at angles no one else can reach. The two Mumbai employees of the firm are now in legal trouble for flying a drone in a no-fly zone.

A German subsidiary of DHL uses drones to deliver small parcels (medication and other goods) to the German island of Juist. They call it a ParcelCopter Service.

In 2014, a drone got entangled in overhead wires and crashed into the yard of Wheatfield Prison, Dublin. It held a package containing drugs. Mobile phones and drugs are smuggled into prisons in many countries via drones.

Amazon (Amazon Prime Air) aims to deliver small orders through drones. Taco Bell (TacoCopter) is hoping to send out tacos, Dominos (DomiCopter) wants hot slices of pizza to reach customers, and Google (Project Wing) wants to use them to transport larger items.

Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are hot, in more ways than one. It’s a new billion-dollar industry that is literally selling more than it can make. It’s also attracting more controversy in its infancy than most gadgets do in a lifetime. Here are some that I have spent some time with.

Picture Perfect: Aerial views taken by the drone are clear and sharp

A toy story

My first hands-on with a drone was a few years ago with a first-generation Parrot AR.Drone from the USA. Fascinated that I could fly my own drone around the neighbourhood, with a camera that could record it all, I carried the fragile thermocol shell-based quad copter all the way in my hands.

The camera turned out to be a dud with video quality that made for a guessing game of "What is that?" Even the controls were tough. You had to use an iPad screen as your remote. And flying-time battery life was about three minutes. But for three minutes, it was a fascinating toy.

All grown up now
Drones have grown up since then. At CES this year, Airdog, Trace and Ghost all showcased their “follow me” feature, in which a drone in the air can lock onto you and irrespective of how fast you move and where you go, follow and record you.

Intel showcased ‘sense and avoid’ technology as a drone flew through a forest avoiding trees as well as people by itself.

3D Robotics has the Solo, a drone that can stream live Full-HD video from the sky down to your controller, shoot pictures automatically, has an on-board computer that literally flies for you and be in the air for more than 20 minutes.


And then came the DJI Phantom 3 Professional which rewrites every rule. It has a 4K video camera mounted on a motorised gimbal (to shoot the smoothest video ever) and GPS so your drone will come back on its own and never get lost or fly away when you lose control.

It has an auto take-off and auto land feature, returns to within inches from where it took off when the battery runs low or loses connection with the remote.

It has a 2km range (check YouTube for Phantom World record videos of how far and high a Phantom has been sent out), has sensors and extra cameras to enable accident-free flying inside a building or small room, streams 4K video back from as far as 2km, an intelligent battery that gives you about 23 minutes of "air time" and is rock steady and impossibly easy to fly.

Phantom 3 takes the technology to new heights, literally. But competition is close. Yuneec’s Typhoon Q500 4K has almost all this and more coming up as should GoPro. Fly high:Yuneec’s (above) Typhoon Q500 4K offers competition to the DJI Phantom 3 (down), which has a 4K video camera, in-built GPS and long-lasting battery

Dark clouds looming

Before you get all excited and head to the nearest drone store, there is a dark cloud looming above drones with no silver lining in sight.

Flying a drone is India is banned. Blanket ban! As many other countries, including the Federal Aviation Administration in the US, are grappling with coming up with laws to govern drones in the sky, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation in India went ahead and put out a fairly terse "Public Notice" stating that "no one will launch a UAV in Indian

civilian airspace for any purpose whatsoever".

That was it. Boom! All drones grounded (the ones at weddings still seem to be doing brisk business though)! While drone technology is complicated (can’t have our skies full of drones bumping into each other, killing birds, banging into aircraft) it needs very clear-headed laws where hobbyists as well as commercial drones can’t just be slaves to a blanket ban.

I’ve heard that DGCA are about to come up with a new policy within a month. Hope that’s a well-thought-out law – as my drone needs a life outside the box it’s been sitting in for a very long time.

I need it up in the sky to take my first ‘Dronie’( yes, thats what a selfie taken from a Drone is called!)

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, July 19
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