Sunday, September 12, 2010
Attack of the drones! Airborne eyes peer at the city
In New York City, someone's always looking down on you.
Low-tech, miniature versions of battlefield drones have come to the boroughs. Only here, they are controlled mostly by hobbyists and photographers, not soldiers shooting insurgents from the sky.
There are only 282 official permits to fly drones nationwide, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. They range from $4.5 million jets that can fly for two days without landing, to hand-launched helicopters that fit in a book bag.
The FAA would not say if any of these permits have been issued in New York City.
But the number of drones patrolling the nation's skies is expected to "explode" if the agency, as expected in December, relaxes restrictions on law enforcement for aircraft weighing 4.4 pounds or less.
Until then, hobbyists are the only people who can launch unmanned aircraft without a permit, as long as devices aren't being used to make money, said an FAA spokesman. They're supposed to fly below 400 feet.
New York-based SkyCamUSA has used battery-powered helicopters, which can fly up to 40 mph and hover in place, to shoot Riverside Park, the West Side Highway and Yankee Stadium, costing real-estate and production clients a fraction of what they would spend contracting a manned helicopter.
SkyCamUSA recently filmed the Harriman Arden House estate on an upstate mountaintop for the brokerage firm Colliers.
Colliers' senior managing director, Elliot Baum, was so impressed by the film -- which within 20 seconds swooped from high above the Hudson Highlands to within feet of the driveway to a close-up of the mansion's stony façade -- that he said he plans to use the company more in the future.
SkyCamUSA’s drone, which shoots overhead real-estate images across New York City
* Max distance from pilot: 750 feet, and must always be line of sight
* Weight: About 22 pounds
* Speed: Up to 40 mph
* Features: Can shoot still pictures or video