On My Wish List: A Quadcopter Drone for Aerial Filming

Some of my science videos contain clips filmed from a helicopter, which I’ve used occasionally to conduct research in the Mississippi River Delta (this video, for example, showing aerial footage of both the Mississippi River Birdsfoot and the Atchafalaya Deltas). Such opportunities are rare for the average scientist (or videographer) because helicopter time is quite expensive. However, an aerial perspective can really add to a science story about an unusual or extensive landscape or a remote ecosystem.

We now have a viable alternative to expensive helicopters: remote-controlled quadcopter drones outfitted with cameras. Filmmakers are beginning to take advantage of drone technology to capture stunning aerial footage at a reasonable cost. In the video below, a film crew shot an unusual video in ice caves that riddle the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska. They apparently were able to fly the drone (a DJI Phantom) into the caves and crevasses by using the GoPro Hero 3 camera to see how to maneuver. A wireless link between the camera and a viewing screen (on a smartphone or tablet) allows real-time viewing as well as camera operation.

I would have been pretty nervous about sending a drone and my camera into a deep hole from which recovery would have been impossible…..but they got some quite spectacular footage. Read more about the making of the ice cave film here.

From what I read, setup and operation of these quadcopters is not that easy. Several commenters on one site selling the Phantom described how their drones flew off (with the GoPro Hero camera attached) never to be seen again (even though there is supposed to be a fail-safe return mechanism). That would be quite disappointing, to say the least.

So, the quadcopter is on my wish list, but I may wait a while and do some more research before purchasing.

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