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The proliferation of UAV drone technology in recent years has intriguing possibilities for filmmakers, making location scouting more convenient and driving down the cost of aerial cinematography. But while they generally represent savings over manned flights, drones capable of lifting and controlling a camera from companies such as Draganfly and DroidAir cost anywhere from $2000 to $22,000 or more.
Parrot, an eclectic French technology company (their other products include a Phillipe Starck-designed speaker system and a plant-monitoring sensor) released their quad-rotor AR Drone in 2010, and the AR Drone 2.0, an updated version, last year. Marketed primarily as a tech toy for hobbyists, the drone costs $300 and can be controlled via iOS and Android devices. The AR Drone’s onboard camera passes a video signal back to the control device that allows pilots to steer by sight and record video. The 2.0 version carries a camera capable of capturing 720p video.
Intriguingly for budget-constrained film-makers, however, at CES 2013, the company showed off a soon-to-be released update that will incorporate what they call Director Mode into the control scheme. Director Mode adds the ability to tweak camera settings remotely, along with nine pre-programmed movements that the drone can execute with computer-controlled precision, eliminating human inaccuracies and enhancing picture stability.
“The idea is to make sure you get exactly what you want,” says Julien Galou, Entertainment Marketing Manager for the AR Drone. “It allows you to execute moves that are very difficult to do smoothly with manual controls.”
The company also publishes a software development kit (SDK) that allows the technically minded to program the AR Drone 2 to execute even more complex precision maneuvers (see video below).
While the AR Drone 2.0 is an impressive piece of tech for $300, it is currently held back as a moviemaking tool by its 720p resolution.
However, with technology advancing ever more quickly, we would be very surprised if we didn’t see higher resolution offerings in the future as well as more in-depth controls aimed at filmmakers, making this a very viable option for the cost-conscious.
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