Drones are becoming more common in our skies, performing a variety of tasks,
from taking photos to monitoring crops and potentially even delivering
But there are strict rules about their usage, which has led some to come up with innovative ways to fly such vehicles more safely.
“I’m using a dog leash for a small dog,” says roboticist Sergei Lupashin as he demonstrates a new kind of consumer-friendly drone at the Ted (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver.
By tethering it, he hopes the Fotokite, as it is called, can avoid some of the issues faced by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are banned without a special licence because of safety and privacy concerns.
“It doesn’t rely on GPS [ Global Positioning System], sophisticated machine vision, radio, it doesn’t even use a compass. Most crashes today happen because of GPS, radio or piloting issues,” says Dr Lupashin.
“Should something happen, the leash gives a robust fail safe – the vehicle reduces thrust and it automatically comes back to the operator,” he adds.
The inspiration for the device came during street protests in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow, when he realised it could be an invaluable tool for reporting protests around the world.
“For journalists it is good to get that perspective, to show the scale of the event without adding to the tension,” says Dr Lupashin.
But he also sees potential for amateur and professional photographers, archaeologists, architects and even as a toy for children.
His prototype device uses a shop-bought quadrocopter with “a basic action camera attached” which, in turn, is connected to a standard dog lead. It can shoot both video and stills.
Drones have long been associated with the military, but increasingly they are finding their way into civilian life, for a wide range of uses including delivering medicines in the developing world, for farming and as a low-cost way of getting broadband to remote parts of the world – something both Facebook and Google are actively pursuing.
They are also useful tools for both professional and amateur photographers, providing the opportunity for a bird’s eye view of people and places.
“Aerial photography is a fascinating new application for small, unmanned vehicles but the remote-controlled ones are very complex and can be difficult to use. They are also dangerous,” says Dr Lupashin.
The safety issue took centre stage last month when an Australian triathlete was injured by an aerial drone taking pictures of the race she was competing in.
A drone on a lead is likely to be treated with far less suspicion, says Dr Lupashin.
“People treat you normally – it is like a flying pet. It always has a physical connection to the operator,” he says.
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