By Bob Hammell
People watching the 2014 Sochi Olympics on TV will be getting some interesting new viewing angles on the competition as this is the first Olympics where drones are being used to capture footage of the events.
The multirotor drones are being piloted above the athletes to provide overhead shots of the action, something that in the past could only be done from helicopter at a far distance.
They also allow for tracking shots as the drone follows the athlete as they traverse through the course. This can be pretty cool when watching events like downhill skiing where all other camera angles are stationary.
The drones being used are eight-legged 'octocopter' multirotors equipped with high definition cameras, much more intense then the ones we've reviewed here in the QuadHangar.
In order to provide a live video feed for broadcast a specially transceiver must be attached to the camera. This adds to the total weight of the payload and requires that the drone itself be capable of lifting that mass.
Octocopters are typically utilized in cases like this since their eight motors combine to create enough thrust to get airborne. These drones are quite capable and have been clocked up to flying 40 mph.
Pilots controlling the drone have to be quite skilled in order to operate them.
At all times they need to be wary of the drones position in space, where it is heading, what obstacles are around it, and still be responsible for aiming the camera at the action!
There are a handful of benefits to using a drone in these scenarios, one being that it greatly reduces production costs.
Although a commercial grade multirotor can be in the thousands of dollars range it is still cheaper than hiring a helicopter with a full camera crew.
The multirotor is also able to get closer to the action without being a safety concern. Helicopters are limited in how low they can go, and cranes, which are also used for overhead shots, are limited in how high they can go.
A drone can span all these altitude ranges without a problem, making it a versatile solution. Since the drones only emit a soft sounding whine from their motors they are able to get close to the athletes without disturbing them.
Drones aren't completely safe though. There is an off chance that a problem with one of the sensors could send it out of balance and flying into spectators, that would be a worst case scenario.
The only thing preventing that right now is the quality of the drones which have a very low fail rate.
I can see the trend of using drones as a tool in film and broadcast industries growing rapidly in the next few years.
Already drones have been used to capture footage in feature length movies and television shows.
Now we're seeing them enter into the live sports realm where the action is not choreographed and there is a live audience to be wary of.
How long will it be until we see a drone hovering over the line of scrimmage in an NFL game? Or hovering over center field at a baseball game? I don't suspect either of those are too far off.